Acquitted ex-Parkland resource officer says he 'wouldn't have done anything different'

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(NewsNation) – A former Florida sheriff’s deputy who was acquitted after being criminally tried for not doing enough to confront the Parkland school shooter says he “wouldn’t have done anything different.”

Former Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson wept as he was found not guilty Thursday of felony child neglect and other charges related to failing to act during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018.

Prosecutors argued Peterson could have confronted shooter Nikolas Cruz and stopped the deaths of six of the 17 people who died. Peterson took cover, rather than run into the three-story building where the shootings unfolded.

Peterson took cover in the alcove of a building for 40 minutes, long after other police officers stormed the building and the shooting ended, the Associated Press reported.

Peterson told NewsNation host Dan Abrams he stands by his actions.

“I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Peterson said. “Because my actions were based on what my initial stimuli was, hearing the two shots outside and I moved to cover, not knowing where those shots were.”

Peterson’s attorney Mark Eiglarsh said his client did not know where the gunshots were coming from due to echoes. He also insisted the sheriff’s radio system limited what Peterson could hear from investigators arriving on the scene.

“Anyone who saw this trial knows that the information he had was so limited … 20-something witnesses heard the same shots he did, and it all sounded like it was coming from outside,” Eiglarsh told Abrams.

Peterson said he hopes to sit down with the parents and spouses of Parkland victims to tell them “the truth” about what happened.

But Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was killed on the first floor, has no interest in talking to Peterson.

“No. No. Bring me my daughter back,” Montalto told The Associated Press about meeting with Peterson. “We’ll all trade anything to get our kids back. The spouses … who lost someone, they want them back, too. And if that’s not going to happen, why do we need to talk to this failure? He didn’t do the right thing. He ran away.”

Peterson told Abrams his “heart goes out” to the Parkland families upset with his actions.

Peterson’s case marked the first trial in U.S. history of a law enforcement officer for conduct during an on-campus shooting. Eiglarsh said they “expected” the returned verdict because they “had the truth on our side.”

“What I’m really concerned about is every single law enforcement officer in this country who are having their actions Monday-morning-quarterbacked by lawyers who sit in an office, who don’t carry a gun, who don’t go to the scene, who don’t serve and protect, who don’t sacrifice, and then they levy criminal charges against people like this man,” Eiglarsh told Abrams. “Thirty-two years he dedicated himself. He’s an award-winning officer, a father of four beautiful children. How dare they put him through what they did.”

Prosecutors viewed the case as one of particularly extreme inaction. Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor defended his office’s decision to charge Peterson.

“As parents, we have an expectation that armed school resource officers — who are under contract to be caregivers to our children — will do their jobs when we entrust our children to them and the schools they guard,” Pryor said in a statement. “They have a special role and responsibilities that exceed the role and responsibilities of a police officer. To those who have tried to make this political, I say: It is not political to expect someone to do their job.”

Prosecutors tried to convince the courtroom that as the school’s assigned deputy, Peterson was a “caregiver” to students at the school. He retired soon after the Parkland shooting and was then fired retroactively.

The jury deliberated for 19 hours over the course of four days, eventually ruling in Peterson’s favor.

Cruz, the Parkland shooter, was sentenced to life in prison.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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