FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The face of a former Florida sheriff’s deputy went “blank” as shots rang out from a Parkland high school building five years ago and he did not appear to grasp that a gunman was inside killing 17 people, a former security supervisor testified during the deputy’s trial Tuesday.
Kelvin Greenleaf, testifying for the prosecution, said he was unarmed and standing next to Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson about 10 yards (9 meters) from the three-story 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. They had just ridden together to the area in a golf cart after hearing the first shots.
Peterson drew his handgun, but instead of going inside he told Greenleaf they needed to take cover and went with him to the outside of a neighboring building, the guard said. Peterson stayed next to the building for 40 minutes, long after the shots ended and other officers had stormed inside.
“He just had a blank look on his face. It was so much going on and I could imagine the stress, the pressure he was on,” said Greenleaf, who has since retired.
Peterson, then the school’s assigned deputy, is on trial for felony child neglect and other charges for failing to confront shooter Nikolas Cruz during his six-minute attack on Feb. 14, 2018. He could be sentenced to nearly 100 years in prison and lose his $104,000 annual pension if convicted. He retired shortly after the shooting before being fired retroactively.
Peterson, 60, has insisted that because of echoes he did not know where the shots were coming from, which is why he did not enter the 1200 building.
But Greenleaf said that while standing with Peterson, he immediately knew the shooter’s location. Cruz used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle and Greenleaf said the shots were loud.
“The shots I knew for certain were coming from the 1200 building,” Greenleaf said.
Under cross-examination by Peterson’s attorney, Greenleaf testified that in seven years working with Peterson he never showed cowardice, immediately breaking up student fights, and never failed to perform his duties.
“He did a great job. Anytime I needed him for searches, fights, stolen cellphones – he was always there,” Greenleaf said.
Another security guard, Elliot Bonner, testified that he also knew the shots were coming from the 1200 building — but he had seen the body of a security guard outside a door. That was on the opposite side of the building from where Peterson and Greenleaf were located.
Under cross-examination, Bonner agreed that he frequently had problems with echoes in that area of the school when students set off firecrackers or blasted air horns. The echoes made it difficult to locate those students, he said.
Peterson is charged in connection with failing to confront Cruz before he reached the third floor, where six of the victims died. He is not charged in connection with the 11 people fatally shot on the first floor before he reached the building.
Prosecutors intend to conclude their two-week presentation Wednesday. They have called to the witness stand students, teachers and law enforcement officers who have testified about the horror they experienced and how they knew where Cruz was. They also called a training supervisor who said Peterson failed to follow the protocols for confronting an active shooter.
Defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh has said he intends to call about two dozen witnesses who will testify they were also uncertain of where the shots were coming from. Because of scheduling conflicts, a few of them have already testified, including a deputy who arrived at the school during the shooting. He thought the shots were coming from the football field, more than 100 yards (90 meters) from the 1200 building.
For Peterson to be convicted of child neglect, prosecutors must first show he was legally a caregiver to the juvenile students, defined by Florida law as “a parent, adult household member or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.”
If jurors find Peterson was a caregiver, they must determine whether he made a “reasonable effort” to protect the children or failed to provide necessary care.
Peterson is the first U.S. law enforcement officer ever charged for an alleged failure to act during a school shooting. Similarly, Texas authorities are investigating officers in the town of Uvalde who did not confront the shooter who killed 19 elementary students and two teachers last year. None have been charged, however.
Cruz, 24, pleaded guilty and last year received a life sentence, avoiding a death sentence when his jury could not unanimously agree he deserved execution.