A Florida jury on Thursday acquitted a former sheriff's deputy accused of failing to protect students during the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Scot Peterson, the school resource officer on duty when a gunman entered a building on Feb. 14, 2018, and opened fire, killing 17 and wounding another 17, had been charged with 11 counts of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury.
Peterson, 60, put his head on the table in front of him and sobbed with relief as the judge read aloud the "not guilty" verdict to each count. The jury's verdict spared him what could have been a prison sentence of 97 years.
After the verdict, Peterson told reporters at the courthouse that he would like to talk to the parents of students who lost their lives in the shooting.
"If they need to really know the truth of what occurred ... I'll be there for them," he said, choking back tears.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office, which brought the case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment
Peterson was armed but never went inside while the shooting was underway, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office and surveillance video.
He is one of few law enforcement officers ever prosecuted for failing to take action or provide care. The outcome of the highly unusual case could set a legal precedent and induce prosecutors around the country to refrain from charging similar officials with negligence after other shootings.
Peterson did not testify in his trial, which lasted two and a half weeks.
A jury in October spared Nikolas Cruz, the gunman in the Parkland shooting, from the death penalty, instead calling for life in prison without possibility of parole.
In May, the United States marked the one-year anniversary of the deadliest U.S. school shooting in nearly a decade, in which a gunman in Uvalde, Texas, killed 19 children and two teachers and injured 17 others.
Police waited more than an hour to enter and confront the shooter in that case, prompting widespread criticism.
A report by the Texas Department of Public Safety found an Uvalde police officer could have shot the gunman before he entered the school but hesitated while awaiting permission from a supervisor.
(Reporting by Julia Harte)