Is it illegal to be a coward?
That’s an interesting question and apparently one a jury is going to have to answer in Florida.
Last week, a man who earned the title of coward was arrested and charged with 11 crimes related to his decision not to risk his life to save school children during a school shooting at Parkland High School.
Former deputy Scot Peterson was charged with seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury, all but the last charge related to Peterson’s decision to hide outside Parkland High School when the shooting was taking place inside.
After hearing this, two thoughts came to mind.
No. 1, we are extremely fortunate in this area that when faced with the same decision in Santa Fe, two Santa Fe ISD officers ran into the school, down the hall and directly into the line of fire. That decision made by officers John Barnes and Gary Forward undoubtedly saved many lives. The shooter in Santa Fe turned his attention away from the students and to the officers. That allowed some students to escape and others to simply not get shot again.
That decision also almost cost Barnes his life when he was hit by a bullet. Fortunately, Forward put his life on the line to help Barnes and both officers made it out alive.
No. 2, I’m not sure how to feel about the decision to press criminal charges on an officer who chose his own personal safety over others.
I know how I feel about Peterson. The man is a coward, and I believe the sheriff’s office was absolutely right to fire him. He should never serve another minute in law enforcement, and, frankly, he should be ashamed to show his face in public.
In my life, I have worked closely with hundreds of police. I have seen and talked to officers who put their lives on the line for others. From what I have seen, and I know this is not scientific, I am guessing 98 to 99 percent of officers would run into a building when shots were being fired.
The small minority who wouldn’t probably shouldn’t be in law enforcement at all. But there’s a big leap between choosing to protect yourself and being a criminal. In fact, I have never heard of an officer being charged with a crime for failing to put his life on the line.
So I’m really torn about this one. On one hand, I have followed the story of John Barnes, a man who did not hesitate and nearly gave the ultimate sacrifice for students at Santa Fe High School. I know he doesn’t like this word, but John Barnes is a hero. His actions saved others. All officers should be like him, and I’m certain the vast majority aspire to.
Scot Peterson is the exact opposite of John Barnes. He chose to hide and as a result, additional students were killed. I completely understand the parents who feel their child might have survived if Peterson had acted differently. Hearing their anger and grief makes perfect sense.
There is no doubt Peterson’s decision not to act, to care only for himself, cost others their lives. But does that make it a crime?
Occasionally, I will hear a story about a Medal of Honor winner. All of them did things that were amazingly heroic. They earned the medal they or their families received. But for every Medal of Honor winner, there are dozens if not hundreds of soldiers who did not or would not have jumped on a grenade. There are many who did not run alone into the battlefield to save someone else.
Does that make them poor soldiers? Absolutely not. It makes them human.
In this area, we have a perfect example of a hero and an officer who responded just the way we hope all of them will. John Barnes and Gary Forward ran toward the bullets.
Scot Peterson ran away. But is that a crime? I guess a jury will make the decision.