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July 3, 2023

A former sheriff’s deputy charged of child neglect.

A former sheriff’s deputy has been found not guilty of failing to protect students when a gunman opened fire at a Florida high school in 2018.

Scot Peterson stayed outside during the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, near Miami.

Mr Peterson, the school’s resource officer, was found not guilty of 11 charges including felony child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury.

The attack, among the deadliest at a US school, saw 17 killed and 17 injured.

Mr Peterson, 60, put his head in his hands and began sobbing as the verdicts were read out in court in Fort Lauderdale.

After the verdict, Mr Peterson told reporters that he would like to talk to the parents of the students who were killed.

“If they need to really know the truth of what occurred… I’ll be there for them,” he said.

But Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina was one of the students murdered, said he continued to blame Mr Peterson for not trying to stop the shooting.

“His inaction contributed to the shock, the devastation of students and teachers at that school,” Mr Montalto told reporters. “We don’t understand how this jury looked at the evidence that was presented and found him not guilty.”

“All I can say to the members of the jury is: ‘I think your school should hire him to protect your children,'” he said.

The jury heard testimony that when the attack occurred on 14 February 2018, Mr Peterson, who was armed but was not wearing body armour, stayed in an alcove adjacent to the school building for 30 or 40 minutes until the shooting stopped.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation found he “did absolutely nothing to mitigate” the shooting. Critics, including then-President Donald Trump, branded him a coward.

Mr Peterson is believed to be the first US officer charged with failing to respond to a school shooting, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers. He could have faced a sentence of up to 97 years in prison if he had been convicted.

There is no law that requires a police officer to put themselves in the line of fire, or risk their lives during a shooting, so prosecutors chose to charge him with felony child negligence. The case hinged on whether Mr Peterson had a legal obligation to try to stop the killer.

But the defence focused on Mr Peterson’s long career, said that he was confused about the where the shots were coming from, and argued that he could not be considered a “caregiver” under a law typically used to prosecute parents or day care providers when children are hurt while under their care.

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