Parents of children gunned down in the Parkland school shooting in Florida last year have never understood two actions taken by Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel: his refusal to fire a campus-based deputy who failed to enter the school during the rampage that took 17 lives, and his continued defense of controversial Obama-era school policies that allowed the accused shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to avoid arrest and a police record and thereby purchase the murder weapon.
Some now think they have found the answer in a single incident that occurred in 2014. A police report shows that’s when Israel’s then-17-year-old son, Brett, was accused of participating in a sexual assault of a 14-year-old boy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The case was investigated by Scot Peterson — the armed deputy who took cover while children and staff were shot last February. Using the Obama-era guidelines, Peterson’s recommendation helped his boss’s son receive just a three-day suspension.
“Everyone in this county is wondering why Peterson was allowed to retire so quickly and take his pension,” said local attorney Alex Arreaza, who represents victims of the school tragedy. “Normally deputies would not be allowed to retire under those circumstances, but in this case, Peterson was allowed to. This report gives a plausible reason,” he said.
According to the four-page report filed by Peterson, the victim, who was a freshman at the time, alleged that Israel, then the school’s starting quarterback, held him down while another senior kicked him, grabbed his genitals and rammed a baseball bat between his buttocks, simulating rape.
People familiar with the case say Peterson could have referred Israel for felony charges, but reduced the crime to “simple battery,” making him eligible for a leniency program requiring no arrest. “The school district’s disciplinary matrix requires no law enforcement action required regarding the incident,” the deputy wrote.
“A child was sexually assaulted and Peterson reduced the charges to fit a matrix and report it as information. This allowed the deputy to put it away and not do anything,” said Arreaza, who is suing both Israel and Peterson on behalf of Anthony Borges, a Stoneman Douglas student who survived the massacre, despite being shot five times.
Arreaza said that the same lax disciplinary culture meant Cruz was never expelled or sent to the juvenile justice system despite committing multiple offenses every year throughout middle and high school. Peterson was warned at least twice of the threat Cruz posed as an active shooter, but failed to investigate the matter. Peterson had an office on the Stoneman Douglas campus, where he’d been posted for nine years.
While Israel publicly criticized Peterson for inaction during the shooting, he didn’t fire his deputy, instead letting him resign and receive a public pension of almost $105,000 a year (not including health-care benefits). The 55-year-old Peterson will collect monthly payments of more than $8,700 for the rest of his life.
Arreaza suspects that Israel protected Peterson because the deputy protected his son from prosecution, adding that Israel tried to keep the four-year-old incident report under tight wraps. After the report was leaked to him, Arreaza said that “a BSO [Broward Sheriff’s Office] attorney called me to try to scare me into not doing anything with it.” RealClearInvestigations has obtained a full, unredacted copy of the report, but is withholding the name of the victim.
Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting, speculated that Peterson’s dispensing of the case provided him with “job security.” Pollack is also suing Peterson, whom he’s slammed as “the coward of Broward.”