A Florida court was shocked this week when disgraced ex-deputy Scot Peterson aka "The Coward of Broward" claimed in court that he had no legal duty to confront the Parkland shooter and protect the children inside the school. Although the judge rejected the deputy's claim that he had no duty to confront Nikolas Cruz that day, a pile of court cases says otherwise.
Broward Circuit Judge Patti Englander Henning found after a hearing Wednesday that ex-deputy Scot Peterson did have a duty to protect the students inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on that fateful day in February in which 17 died and 17 others were wounded.
As TFTP reported, video showed deputy Peterson cowering in fear outside the building as gunfire erupted inside. Had he confronted Cruz, an untold number of lives may have been saved.
The court case against Peterson is a negligence suit filed by Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was tragically killed in the shooting. Pollack said that it made no sense for the deputy to argue that he had no legal duty to go inside.
“Then what is he doing there?” Pollack said after the ruling. “He had a duty. I’m not going to let this go. My daughter, her death is not going to be in vain.”
Peterson's attorney, Michael Piper disagreed. Piper acknowledged that while this argument for defense may seem offensive and outrageous, as a matter of law, the deputy had no legal duty to confront the shooter.
“There is no legal duty that can be found,” Piper said. “At its very worst, Scot Peterson is accused of being a coward. That does not equate to bad faith.”
If we go back through decades of court cases, we will find that Piper is indeed correct.
Police in America are not required “protect and serve.”
To be entirely fair, there were probably plenty of officers who would have rushed into the building that day but case law dating back to the 1930's says they don't have to do so.
The leading case on the topic is Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981) when the Court stated that the "fundamental principle of American law is that a government and its agents are under no general duty to provide public services, such as police protection, to any individual citizen."
In that case, police were directly alerted by Carolyn Warren, Miriam Douglas, and Joan Taliaferro that they were being held hostage by Marvin Kent and James Morse. Warren called police twice. But police never intervened and Warren, Douglas, and Taliaferro were held captive, raped, robbed, beaten, forced to commit sexual acts upon each other, and made to submit to the sexual demands of Kent and Morse—for over 14 hours.
Recommended for You
The appellants argued that because police were alerted—twice—that police had a specific duty to protect them from the harm to which they were alerted. However, the court ruled in favor of police following "the well-established rule that official police personnel and the government employing them are not generally liable to victims of criminal acts for failure to provide adequate police protection."
On top of this case is another from the Supreme Court dating back to the 1930's which established the guidelines for federal government protection of citizens. In short, there is none. In the case of Erie Railroad Co. Vs. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64, 82 L.Ed. 1188, the Court stated "there is no federal general common law. Congress has no power to declare substantive rules of common law applicable in a state whether they be local in their nature or 'general,' be they commercial law or a part of the law of torts. And no clause in the Constitution purports to confer such a power upon the federal courts."
In fact, the only case establishing that police have a duty to protect individuals states that those individuals must be under direct responsibility of police at that time.
In the case of DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services (109 S.Ct. 998, 1989; 489 U.S. 189 (1989)), the court in DeShaney held that no duty arose as a result of a "special relationship," concluding that Constitutional duties of care and protection only exist as to certain individuals, such as incarcerated prisoners, involuntarily committed mental patients and others restrained against their will and therefore unable to protect themselves.
As Peterson was merely assigned to the school for the ostensible presence of security, he was not directly charged with caring for any of the individual students. Therefore, the court will have a difficult time proving that he violated any duty by being a coward.
To be clear, these precedents were set in these cases—not to protect coward cops who refuse to confront shooters and allow children to die—but because police cannot be in all places at all times and therefore cannot be held liable for a person sustaining harm just because police failed to act.
So, while judge Henning in Florida may find it offensive that Scot Peterson cowered in fear that day and chose to hide instead of save the lives of children, she has to overcome multiple cases in which other much larger courts have said otherwise.
Even if judge Henning asserts that the children were under the direct care of Peterson and therefore he should've have acted, Warren vs. District of Columbia already set the precedent in a more direct scenario as these women asked police twice to help them, yet they failed to act.
The Peterson case will most assuredly shed light on the idea that police "protecting" you is a misconception. Police will seldom prevent violence because they are usually not there, and even when they have the chance and fail to act, they have not strayed from their duty.
The average response time to a 9-1-1 call is 10 minutes nationwide; for poor areas, that time quadruples. In some cases, the dispatchers do not even take the caller seriously and the victim ends up dead when a crime could have actually been prevented.
The reality is that police exist to enforce the law only.
In a perfect world, police would show up prior to a crime and stop it, or at least during a crime, but this is simply not a reality most of the time. If there were enough cops to stop all crimes, this would require an Orwellian 1984 scenario with the state surveilling all citizens, all the time. While this would likely stop most of the crime, the conditions required to do so would be a living hell.
We need only look at prisons to see how even under the direct care of law enforcement, crimes, neglect, murders, and rapes, all still take place. No one in their right mind would ever want to live under such conditions in a free society.