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Trial for disgraced former school resource officer, Scot Peterson, begins

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson is shown in court during a motions hearing in his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, May 22, 2022.
Amy Beth Bennett
/
Pool South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson is shown in court during a motions hearing in his case at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday, May 22, 2022.

Opening arguments began Wednesday as the jury starts hearing details about what happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The unprecedented trial got underway Wednesday in Fort Lauderdale for the Broward school resource officer accused of failing to do his job as a law enforcement officer to stop a gunman from killing 17 people five years ago at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Scot Peterson is charged with seven counts of felony child neglect for the children killed and injured on the third floor of the school building on Feb. 14, 2018. He also faces three counts of misdemeanor culpable negligence for the adults shot on the third floor, including a teacher and an adult student who died.

If convicted, Peterson could get a prison sentence of nearly a century and lose his $104,000 annual pension.

The Associated Press reports that Peterson is the first U.S. law enforcement officer prosecuted for his alleged actions and inaction during a school shooting.

Texas authorities are still considering charges for the officers who failed last year to confront the gunman at an Uvalde elementary school who killed 19 children and two teachers.

Peterson arrived at the 1200 building with his gun drawn 73 seconds before the gunman reached the third floor. But instead of entering, Peterson backed away as gunfire sounded. He insists that he did not know where the shots were coming from because of echoes between the buildings.

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Peterson's attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, is expected to call 22 witnesses who, like Peterson, will tell jurors they believed the gunman's shots were coming from outside the school building.

Eiglarsh told the jury on Wednesday that the shooter is the one to blame for the killings. The gunmen pleaded guilty and received a life sentence.

“When you have very strong feelings in this case … remember who’s to blame for that — not my client,” he said.

Prosecutors repeatedly challenged Eiglarsh with with objections to the judge.

Eiglarsh showed jurors a mugshot of the shooter as well as screenshots from surveillance videos of him in the building during the shooting.

“He destroyed families, he destroyed lives. Everyone was affected by his terror. He is the one to blame for that day,” Eiglarsh told jurors while the pictures of the shooter remained on screen.

Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger said Peterson was the “lead security” at the school and neglected his duty and training by waiting outside the building.

“He is trained how to handle a situation where he is the only person there, the only law enforcement person there to handle an active shooter,” Klinger said.

Peterson had been working as the school resource officer for the school for nine years. He retired shortly after the shooting, then was fired retroactively.

Some family members of the victims sat together in the courtroom Wednesday, the same courtroom used for last year's trial of the shooter. They scoffed and shook their heads while Eiglarsh gave his opening argument.

Jurors will need to decide whether Peterson — as the school resource officer — had a legal obligation to protect students and staff in the building.

A jury of four women and two men will decide if Peterson is guilty of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury. The perjury charges stem from Peterson’s alleged lying to investigators about how many gunshots he heard and the number of fleeing students he could see as he took cover, not moving for 48 minutes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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Gerard Albert III is a senior journalism major at Florida International University, who flip-flopped around creative interests until being pulled away by the rush of reporting.