US deputy sheriff branded a ‘coward’ breaks silence, defends actions

WASHINGTON: He has been publicly branded a "coward" by the President of the United States and forced to resign his job in disgrace.

Now, after nearly two weeks of opprobrium, the sheriff's deputy accused of failing to take action during the Florida high school shooting is fighting back.

Mr Scot Peterson, 54, broke his silence on Tuesday and defended his conduct during the shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 14 students and three adult educators dead.

"The allegations that Mr Peterson was a coward and that his performance, under the circumstances, failed to meet the standards of police officers are patently untrue," his lawyer, Mr Joseph DiRuzzo III, said in a statement.

Mr Peterson was on campus and armed on Feb 14 when Nikolas Cruz, a troubled 19-year-old former student, opened fire on his classmates with an AR-15- style rifle. Mr Peterson was slammed for not intervening, he remained outside the building for "upwards of four minutes", never going inside,

In suspending Mr Peterson without pay last week, Broward County sheriff Scott Israel made it clear he believed the deputy's actions were negligent.

Mr Peterson was initially responding to what he believed were "firecrackers - and not gunfire", Mr DiRuzzo said.

After running to the building where the shooting was taking place, Mr Peterson "heard gunshots but believed that those gunshots were originating from outside of any of the buildings on the school campus", he said.

"In the event of outdoor gunfire, one is to seek cover and assess the situation in order to communicate what one observes to other law enforcement (officers)," he said.

Mr Peterson took up a "tactical position", advised the sheriff's office that he heard shots and initiated a code red lockdown of the campus.

He then gave his keys to the Swat team so that they could enter the building, and he also provided hand-drawn diagrams of the campus to help with the evacuation of students, the lawyer said.- AFP