Peterson, who resigned after being suspended and is under investigation over his actions, has defended his response to the shooting by arguing that he believed the gunfire was coming from outside, rather than inside, a school building. Because of that, he said, he “took up a tactical position” to try to assess the situation.
The video footage, along with audio dispatch records released last week, shed new light on Peterson’s actions outside the school. The video released Thursday, one of many recordings taken on campus the day of the shooting, captured Peterson hurrying across the campus as the massacre was unfolding and then — while, police said, the shooting continued — standing outside for several minutes without seeming to take cover.
An attorney for Peterson did not respond to a message seeking comment Thursday. The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, said the footage backed up Israel’s public statements about Peterson.
“The video speaks for itself,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement. “His actions were enough to warrant an internal affairs investigation, as requested by Sheriff Scott Israel on Feb. 21. After being suspended without pay, Peterson chose to resign and immediately retired rather than face possible termination.”
The statement added that the sheriff’s office was unable to discuss more about the investigation because of Florida law.
The video footage does not include sound, but the sheriff’s office last week released dispatch recordings that captured some of what Peterson said during the massacre.
These audio recordings show that Peterson quickly zeroed in on the building where the massacre occurred — something backed up by the video, which shows him arriving two minutes after the gunfire began — and then seemingly focusing on that building with what he reported over the radio.
“We’re talking about the 1200 building,” Peterson said at one point, according to the audio recordings. When another officer later said some students had reported possible firecrackers by the football field, Peterson replied: “We also heard it’s by, inside the 1200 building.”
It is unclear at what point in the school’s surveillance video Peterson may have said this. The video recording came with a timestamp, while the sheriff’s office released timestamps for the dispatch recordings released last week. But the sheriff’s office also warned that the timestamps for these two sets of records were “not exactly synchronized.”
During and after the shooting, police received a flood of 911 calls, many from people who had children or other relatives trapped inside the school. A police dispatcher in nearby Coral Springs, Fla., which received many 911 calls, said she could hear gunshots in the background of some calls. In some calls, people said they heard from some who were shot or hiding inside the school.
In part of the footage released Thursday, Peterson is obscured by a pole, but other portions of the recording show him standing still. The recording begins by showing people — apparently students — walking on the campus with their faces blurred.
Shortly after, Peterson is seen hurrying with other adults across the campus before arriving in the area of the shooting. The timestamp on the video showed that he arrived at 2:23 p.m., two minutes after the shooting began, police said.
According to a police timeline, the video showed Peterson “near the east corner of building 12 and the north east corner of building 7″ at this time. “He appears to remain in this area for the duration of the incident,” the timeline states.
The sheriff’s office released the 27-minute video clip, most of which comes from a stationary camera on another building on the Stoneman Douglas campus, after being ordered to do so by a judge. Its release comes as the sheriff’s office has faced intense scrutiny for its response to the Feb. 14 shooting as well as how its deputies acted before and after the massacre.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations that multiple other deputies responded to the school but remained outside, while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is reviewing the police response to the shooting. A state panel approved by lawmakers is also going to review the law enforcement response to the shooting and prior contacts that officials had with the suspected gunman, who had repeatedly come to the attention of police and the FBI before the massacre.
The week after the shooting, Israel criticized Peterson for his response, describing the video recording as showing the deputy heading to the building, taking up a position outside and then failing to rush in to confront the gunman, breaking with generally accepted police practice. Israel said that after being suspended, Peterson opted to resign, filing his retirement paperwork that day. Peterson, through an attorney, pushed back at Israel’s depictions of his actions, though he has not commented publicly since.
Joseph A. DiRuzzo III, Peterson’s attorney, called Israel’s account a “gross oversimplification” of what happened and criticized the sheriff for “jump[ing] to a conclusion” about the deputy without waiting for the investigation to finish.
“Let there be no mistake, Mr. Peterson wishes that he could have prevented the untimely passing of the seventeen victims on that day, and his heart goes out to the families of the victims in their time of need,” DiRuzzo said in a statement last month. “However, 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.”
DiRuzzo’s statement said Peterson was initially responding to a call about a firecracker, then told dispatchers there were shots fired and ordered a lockdown of the campus.
After Israel publicly described the video footage of Peterson, media outlets filed a lawsuit seeking to have county officials release the clips. Authorities sought to argue that releasing the videos would hurt the ongoing investigation, while school officials said releasing the footage could reveal vulnerabilities in the security system. The sheriff’s office, meanwhile, ultimately reversed course and said it supported making the footage public.
Broward County Circuit Judge Jeffrey R. Levenson, in an eight-page order released Monday, said the videos could be released without imperiling the school’s security system or endangering the investigation into the massacre. Levenson ordered the sheriff’s office to release a version of the video with “the identities of the students and unknown witnesses” removed sometime after noon Thursday, which is when the sheriff’s office released it.
This report has been updated.