A police officer who was on duty when a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school has gone on trial accused of failing to protect students during the 2018 mass shooting.
Scot Peterson could have confronted gunman Nikolas Cruz and prevented the deaths of six of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School five years ago, prosecutor Steven Klinger told jurors at Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale.
The 60-year-old former sheriff’s officer, who retired and was fired retrospectively after the shooting, was charged in 2019 with 11 criminal charges.
These include seven counts of felony child neglect for four students killed and three wounded on the building’s third floor, three counts of culpable negligence for the adults shot on the same floor, and one of perjury – prosecutors say he lied to investigators.
The charges carry a combined maximum prison sentence of up to 97 years.
Peterson arrived at the school with his gun drawn 73 seconds before Cruz reached the third floor, the court heard.
After hearing the sound of gunfire, he took cover instead of entering the three-storey building, the prosecutor told jurors.
The officer had undergone training in which he was told that he needed to go toward the gunshots if there is an active shooter because each bullet fired is potentially another death, Mr Klinger said.
“He’s the lead security person at that school,” he said.
“He is trained on active shooter scenarios; he is trained how to handle a situation where he is the only law enforcement person there to handle an active shooter.
“You’ve got to get in there and you’ve got to find the shooter.”
Defending, Mark Eiglarsh said Peterson was unable to determine the source of the gunfire while he waited outside, and ridiculed the idea that he should be charged with child neglect, “as if he’s a mother who fails to give a child water or food”.
“He did everything that he possibly could with the limited information that he had,” he told the court.
It is highly unusual for law enforcement officers to be charged with failing to take action or provide care.
A jury last year voted to spare the gunman, Cruz, from the death penalty, instead calling for life in prison without the possibility of parole.