Lawmaker trying to block ‘derelict’ Parkland deputy Scot Peterson’s pension says he wants ‘accountability’

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Outraged by what he sees as Scot Peterson’s failures as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre unfolded, state Rep. Spencer Roach wants to impose a severe financial penalty on the former Broward Sheriff’s deputy by terminating his $105,263 annual pension.

“This guy was derelict in his duty,” Roach said. “It was his duty to protect those people. He failed to do that,” he said, adding that his bill is “about accountability.”

Some family members of the 17 people killed and 17 injured in the Feb. 14 massacre applauded Roach’s legislative effort to go after Peterson’s pension.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Hunter Pollack, whose sister Meadow was among those murdered at the Parkland high school. “My sister had aspirations …. and that dream was wiped away from her by a sociopathic monster, and Peterson had a chance to go in and defend her.”

As word started spreading about the legislation, which Roach filed Tuesday, he said he began receiving messages of support from other Parkland families.

The key provision of the bill is short and direct: “Scot Peterson shall forfeit all rights and benefits under chapter 121, Florida Statutes, except the return of any accumulated contributions, as of the effective date of this act.”

But there are significant issues.

Bruce Rogow, a renowned constitutional law expert and founding professor of law at Nova Southeastern University, said such a move is exceedingly problematic.

“My overall reaction is that a single bill aimed at a single person in order to quote punish that person has all kinds of constitutional problems,” Rogow said. “I think there’s a lot to be said against it.”

Rogow said the U.S. Constitution prohibits bills of attainder, which are laws that single out individuals for punishment, and ex post facto laws, which are created after the fact. “The bill of attainder clause is really a safeguard against legislative exercise of judicial functions and trial by the Legislature.”

Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, said he’s concerned about the kind of precedent that would be set by revoking Peterson’s pension.

“It’s a slippery slope,” he said, when someone has earned pension benefits and the state Legislature gets involved in trying to change the rules later on. “What do we start going after people for? Today it’s for failure to go into a school. Tomorrow it’s for excessive speeding.”

Peterson is not a dues-paying member of the union, and Bell said he wasn’t speaking on Peterson’s behalf.

Peterson’s attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, said he was aware of the proposal. “We’re in the process of reviewing it, and reviewing the applicable law. In the unlikely event that this legislation becomes law, we will take all appropriate legal action.”

On Wednesday, State Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, file a similar bill, seeking the same loss of benefits except for contributions made by Peterson.

Roach’s bill details widely reported shortcomings by Peterson, who was the school resource officer at the time of the shooting.

He stayed outside the building during the rampage and has been condemned by many people, including President Donald Trump, who called him a “coward,” and Scott Israel, who has since been suspended as Broward sheriff over his performance relating to the massacre.

DiRuzzo has rejected assertions of cowardice as “patently untrue.”

Roach said he’s never been to the Parkland school and has not met anyone who lost family members in the massacre. He said he was acting out of a sense of outrage at the idea that Peterson was getting pension money from the taxpayers when he failed miserably at his job.

And he said the report from the state commission that investigated the Parkland shooting makes clear that Peterson was derelict in his duty.

Roach said he hasn’t been in a position to do anything until now. He was elected last year to the Florida House of Representatives from a district that takes in unincorporated areas of eastern and northern Lee County, the first time he’s held office.

From 1996 to 2016, he served in the Coast Guard, including law enforcement roles.

During his time in service, Roach said, the punishment for cowardice “could be death.”

“We compensate our police officers and our firefighters with a very generous pension — as it should be,” Roach said. “The reason we do that is because those people are willing to take risks that most people are not willing to accept. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t refuse to take the risk and then reap the rewards.”

“I just think it’s wrong that this individual failed to do the job that the taxpayers hired him to do, and yet he’s being rewarded for that,” Roach said. “This individual is a disgrace to anyone who’s worn the uniform and carried a badge and a gun in the line of duty.”

Roach said he believes the Legislature has the authority to act because the retirement system is a creation of the state.

“I understand that some folks who wear the uniform are going to be concerned about setting precedent. This is not a bill that is designed to set a precedent. This is designed to target one individual in the state of Florida who failed to do his job and doesn’t deserve a taxpayer-funded pension.”

Roach rejected the idea that Peterson’s pension is justified because of the totality of his service. “The sum of any of our careers can be defined in any single moment.”

Peterson’s monthly pension benefit after 32 years as a deputy is currently $8,771.97. His contributions to the pension plan over the years total $21,267.53, said a spokesman for the Florida Department of Management Services. Peterson doesn’t get health benefits through the state retirement system.

aman@sunsentinel.com, 954-356-4550 or Twitter @browardpolitics



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