An attorney representing the parents of one of the victims of the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has responded to a motion to dismiss a complaint against the law enforcement officer on duty during the mass shooting.
Miami-based private practitioner Joel S. Perwin filed a motion in Broward Circuit Court on Tuesday in response to opposing counsel’s Aug. 6 motion to dismiss a wrongful death complaint against former Broward Sheriff’s Office deputy Scot Peterson.
Peterson was the assigned school resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during former student Nikolas Cruz’s Valentine’s Day assault on the school. Cruz’s attack left 17 dead and 17 injured.
A wrongful death suit filed in April by Andrew Pollack and Shara Kaplan, the parents of victim Meadow Pollack, named Peterson as a defendant alongside Cruz and others. The complaint alleges that Peterson “breached his duties owed to the teachers and students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School” by acting in a cowardly manner and failing to follow pre-established procedure for active shooter situations.
As noted by Perwin, who is serving as counsel to Pollack and Kaplan alongside lead attorney David W. Brill, the motion to dismiss the complaint against Peterson argues in part that he did not have a “duty of care” to the Parkland high school’s faculty or students. It’s a contention that Perwin finds perplexing.
“[Peterson] was the only one who was permitted to carry a gun at the high school,” Perwin told the Daily Business Review. “It was a gun-free zone. His job was to protect the people there, so we are baffled by the contention that he didn’t have any duty to these people.”
Read the plaintiffs’ response to Peterson’s motion to dismiss:
Perwin said it is the plaintiffs’ position that Peterson was an agent of both the Broward County School Board and the Broward Sheriff’s Office.
“When you sue a government official there are two factors: One, are they entitled to sovereign immunity? And two, is there a question of whether or not they had a duty to the plaintiff who is suing them? There is a doctrine saying you really have to have a special duty to an individual or a group of individuals to satisfy that requirement,” Perwin said.
According to Perwin, Peterson and his counsel are using that rubric to contend that the high school’s staff and students were solely members of the public and thus he did not possess any special duty or specific obligation to keep them safe. But Perwin’s clients claim the defendant was assigned to deal with a discrete “group of people and not the public at large.”
Read the wrongful death suit against Peterson:
Perwin also argued that under Florida’s “Undertaker Doctrine” — which relates to responsibility by parties who agree to aid others, but instead increase their risk of harm — the charges against Peterson are perfectly sound.
“Even if [the defense] were right in theory and didn’t have anything to do with these individuals, [Peterson] jumped into this situation affirmatively,” Perwin said. ”He’s the one who was responsible for no one going into the building and he called the lockdown after [Cruz] was already in the building. He gave specific instructions: ‘Nobody go in there.’ You certainly can’t say you didn’t have any duty once you did it.”
Peterson’s lawyer, Michael Ross Piper of Fort Lauderdale law firm Johnson, Anselmo, Murdoch, Burke, Piper & Hochman, declined to comment on the plaintiffs’ response to the motion.