Ex-officer charged with negligence in Florida school shooting freed on bail

 Ex-officer charged with negligence in Florida school shooting freed on bail

(Reuters) - A former sheriff's deputy charged with child neglect for failing to enter a Florida high school building during a deadly mass shooting there last year posted bond and was freed from jail on Thursday following an initial court appearance.

Scot Peterson, 56, who legal experts described as one of the nation's few law enforcement officers, if not the first, ever to be criminally prosecuted for failing to take some action, had been in custody since his arrest on Tuesday.

During a brief hearing in Broward County Circuit Court, Judge Elizabeth Scherer agreed to lower Peterson's bond to $39,500, from an initial $102,000, and ordered him to turn over his passport within 48 hours, according to Kristi Grimm, a spokeswoman for the county State Attorney's Office.

A few hours later, Peterson posted bond and was released from jail, she said.

In addition to felony child neglect, Peterson is charged with culpable negligence and perjury in a criminal complaint that carries a maximum prison sentence of nearly 97 years if he were convicted.

The case stems from what prosecutors allege was a criminal failure to exercise his duty to protect the lives of students during a Feb. 14, 2018 shooting rampage that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, a Miami suburb.

Peterson, who was widely ridiculed in the media as the "coward from Broward," resigned a week later after an internal sheriff's investigation concluded he had stayed outside the building rather than enter the school to confront the gunman. He later moved to North Carolina.

Peterson was armed and assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas at the time as the school resource officer. He was the first to arrive on the scene outside the building where the shooting took place, but never went inside during the gunfire, according to the sheriff's office and surveillance video.

Although Peterson did not enter a plea at Thursday's hearing, his lawyer, Joseph DiRuzzo, has said he plans to "vigorously defend" his client against the charges, which he said "lack basis in fact and law."

DiRuzzo contended that his client was being made a scapegoat for a massacre perpetrated by a lone gunman.

The accused killer, Nikolas Cruz, who was 19 at the time and had been expelled from the school for disciplinary problems, was charged with the slayings. He is awaiting trial.

Peterson also faces legal trouble in civil court. Last May, the father one of the students killed in Parkland filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the former deputy.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York. Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Tom Brown)

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Updated Date: Jun 07, 2019 03:13:03 IST