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Trial opens for former Florida deputy in Parkland school shooting

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(Reuters) – Florida prosecutors and defense attorneys will make opening statements on Wednesday in the trial of a former sheriff’s deputy charged with failing to protect students as the 2018 mass shooting unfolded at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Scot Peterson was on duty as a school resource officer when a gunman entered a building in Feb. 14, 2018 and opened fire, killing 17 and wounding another 17. Peterson never went inside while the shooting was underway, according to the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and surveillance video.

Peterson, 60, was charged in 2019 with 11 criminal charges of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury, carrying a combined maximum prison sentence of nearly 97 years.

It is highly unusual for law enforcement officers to be charged with failing to take action or provide care, raising the possibility that Peterson’s trial will set legal precedents.

Legal experts have said Peterson’s defense has a strong case. The neglect law he is accused of breaking is normally used to prosecute caregivers such as daycare providers and parents, not law enforcement officers.

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; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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