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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
Lisa J. Huriash

After ex-deputy Scot Peterson was acquitted, who now pays for his ‘exorbitant’ legal bills?

The Broward Sheriff’s Office will be asked to pay the six-figure legal fees of former deputy Scot Peterson, the school resource officer who recently was acquitted of all charges for failing to confront the Parkland school shooter, his attorney said Thursday.

Peterson’s attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, did not give the exact dollar amount for legal fees, which include the costs of subpoenas, visual aids for the jury and depositions for the lengthy case, but called the final six-figure amount “exorbitant.”

Eiglarsh added, “Prosecutors should have thought about that before pursuing charges against an innocent man.”

Peterson last month was found not guilty on all criminal charges of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury. His attorney successfully argued Peterson didn’t know where the shots were coming from during the massacre at the school in Parkland on Valentine’s Day 2018.

Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor made no apology for the decision to pursue the case against Peterson, saying in a prepared statement after the verdict that Peterson “stood by, leaving an unrestricted killer to spend 4 minutes and 15 seconds wandering the halls at leisure — firing close to 70 rounds. … The evidence showed he stood in one safe spot for more than 40 minutes while the victims on the third floor were killed and injured and while other law enforcement officers took action.”

A civil attorney will be brought on to assist. Eiglarsh gave a “within 90-day” timeframe. “He’s pursuing that,” Eiglarsh said of the effort to recover legal fees. “He … deserves to be reimbursed for the money he had to spend on costs and legal fees, which were exorbitant.”

State law allows law enforcement to request “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs” from their employer “when the action arose out of the performance of the officer’s official duties” and are found not guilty, according to the law.

Police departments then generally cooperate, said Bob Jarvis, a professor in NSU’s Shepard Broad College of Law. “They don’t want to fight the police unions” and “it’s something the deputies expect. It’s part of the workplace relationship. If you always fought it, who’d want to work for you?”

Peterson resigned in lieu of being fired from the Sheriff’s Office.

Peterson was painted both as a scapegoat and a coward, criticized by many people, including his boss at the time, former Sheriff Scott Israel.

Peterson, for his part, “is doing the best he can to enjoy his freedom but it’s challenging because he still has litigation over his head for what will probably be another couple years,” Eiglarsh said.

He was referring to a pending civil trial, which involves the families of the murdered victims. A Broward judge on Wednesday authorized the reenactment of the mass shooting at the school. Attorneys for the victims, led by David Brill, hope to gather evidence to demonstrate that Peterson would have heard dozens of shots and known they were coming from the school’s 1200 building.

Gunman Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 students and staff, injuring 17 others. A judge sentenced Cruz to 34 consecutive life sentences last year.


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