FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A former Florida deputy charged with 11 criminal counts after failing to confront the gunman in the Parkland school massacre was released from jail Thursday after a judge reduced his bail and lifted some restrictions.
Scot Peterson walked out of the Broward County Jail with his attorneys after Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer set bond at $39,500, down from the initial amount of $102,000. Peterson said nothing before getting into a car that drove him away.
Scherer also eliminated a previous requirement that Peterson wear a GPS monitor. His bond is secured by $330,000 in real estate and he will be allowed to go to his home in North Carolina.
“He’s going to be on standard pretrial release,” the judge said.
Peterson, 56, is charged with child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury stemming from the February 2018 shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. If convicted, he faces a potential maximum prison sentence of nearly 100 years.
While out on bail, Peterson cannot possess a firearm or take any job involving children, Scherer said. Peterson, dressed in beige jail clothes, did not speak during the hearing.
His attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, said Peterson should not face the neglect and negligence charges because he was not legally a caregiver with direct responsibility for the welfare of the students.
“They are overreaching. These definitions don’t apply to my client,” DiRuzzo told reporters after the hearing.
Assistant State Attorney Tim Donnelly said case law supports the charges.
“The definition of caregiver is very broad,” Donnelly said.
The charges stem from Peterson’s decision to remain outside a school building — where he was the assigned resource officer — on Valentine’s Day last year when police say defendant Nikolas Cruz, 20, fired 140 rounds from an AR-15 rifle. Cruz faces the death penalty if convicted of the killings. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in return for a life prison sentence.
DiRuzzo said Peterson was abruptly arrested without warning earlier this week after an internal affairs “name-clearing” hearing at the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Gregory Tony said Peterson was fired after that hearing, even though he had previously announced his retirement.
“We expect that he will be treated fairly and appropriately on a going-forward basis and we look to defending against these charges,” DiRuzzo said.
Scherer is also the presiding judge in the Cruz case, which is expected to go to trial early next year.