FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – A judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by families of the victims of the Parkland school massacre can proceed against former sheriff’s deputy Scot Peterson, who failed to intervene during the attack. Circuit Judge Carol-Lisa Phillips denied Peterson’s motion to dismiss the case before trial, stating that a jury should determine whether Peterson showed a “wanton and willful disregard” for the safety of the students and teachers during the six-minute shooting.
Although Peterson was acquitted of criminal charges last year, the standard of proof is lower in a civil lawsuit. The families, who accuse Peterson of cowardice, are seeking damages from him and the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Phillips aims to begin the trial later this year.
In her ruling, Phillips wrote that a reasonable jury could find that Peterson’s failure to confront the shooter, instead prioritizing his own safety, demonstrated indifference to the consequences for those inside the building. David Brill, a lawyer representing the families and survivors, expressed support for the judge’s decision, emphasizing the evidence of Peterson’s disregard for the lives at stake.
Peterson’s attorneys have not yet commented on the ruling. During a previous hearing, Peterson’s lawyer argued that his client had no legal duty to confront the shooter. However, Phillips noted that the extent of Peterson’s duty should be determined by the jury, as there may have been a “special relationship” between Peterson and the students, teachers, and administration at the school.
The families and survivors of the Parkland shooting have already reached settlements with the FBI and the Broward school district, totaling $153 million. Peterson, who became the first U.S. police officer to face criminal charges for failing to act during a school shooting, was acquitted of child neglect last year. The security videos shown during his trial revealed that he took cover outside the building while the shooting was ongoing.
Scot Peterson, who retired shortly after the shooting and was later fired retroactively, had worked at schools for nearly three decades, including nine years at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, has since pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison.