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Closing arguments set in trial of Florida deputy accused of failing to stop Parkland school shooter

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Closing arguments set in trial of Florida deputy accused of failing to stop Parkland school shooter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida sheriff’s deputy fled to safety during the 2018 Parkland school massacre, putting his own life ahead of the children he was charged with protecting and giving the gunman time to fatally shoot several victims, prosecutors told jurors Monday during the closing arguments of his trial on child neglect charges.

Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson could have located and stopped Nikolas Cruz as he carried out his Feb. 14, 2018, attack inside the three-story 1200 building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, prosecutor Kristen Gomes told the jury. But instead of opening a door, looking in a window or seeking information from fleeing students, he chose to take shelter next to an adjoining building, Gomes said. That prevented him from confronting Cruz before he reached the third floor, where six of Cruz’s 17 killings were committed.

Even if he hadn’t killed Cruz, his presence would have distracted him, giving students and teachers time to flee or hide, or caused him to surrender or commit suicide, she said.

 

 

 

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson sits at the defense table during his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, on Thursday, June 22, 2023. Broward County prosecutors charged Peterson, a former Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, with criminal charges for failing to enter the 1200 Building at the school and confront the shooter as he perpetuated the Valentine's Day 2018 mass shooting there. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

The courtroom battle over whether a Florida deputy should have confronted the Parkland school gunman is now centering on what witnesses heard.

 

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Broward Sheriff's Office Detective John Curcio becomes emotional while testifying during the trial of former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, June 21, 2023. Broward County prosecutors charged Peterson, a former Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, with criminal charges for failing to enter the 1200 Building at the school and confront the shooter. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

A veteran homicide detective wept in court as he testified about the 2018 massacre at a Parkland, Florida, high school.

 

 

 

Former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson is shown at the defense table during his trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday, June 20, 2023. Broward County prosecutors charged Peterson, a former Broward Sheriff's Office deputy, with criminal charges for failing to enter the 1200 Building at the school and confront the shooter as he perpetuated the Valentine's Day 2018 Massacre that left 17 dead and 17 injured. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

A Florida sheriff’s deputy would have seen bodies if he’d opened a building’s door during 2018’s Parkland school massacre.

 

 

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Defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh speaks with his client, former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, prior to opening statements in Peterson's trial at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP, Pool)

Opening statements are underway in the trial of a former Florida sheriff’s deputy charged with failing to stop the Parkland school massacre five years ago.

“Choose to go in or choose to run? Scot Peterson chose to run,” Gomes said. “When the defendant ran, he left behind an unrestricted killer who spent the next four minutes and 15 seconds wandering the halls at his leisure. Because when Scot Peterson ran, he left them in a building with a predator unchecked.”

But Peterson’s attorney, Mark Eiglarsh, argued that Peterson is being made a “sacrificial lamb” for failures by elected officials and administrators. He said the evidence proves Peterson’s insistence that the gunshots’ echoes prevented him from pinpointing Cruz’s location is the truth and Peterson did everything he could under the circumstances. Criticizing his actions now is “Monday morning quarterbacking” using facts that were unknown to Peterson in real time.

He said the only person responsible for what happened that day is “that monster” Cruz. He said two dozen students, teachers and others testified that they also could not pinpoint where the shots were coming from — some of them from inside the building where the shooting happened.

“This whole hearing-based prosecution is flawed and offensive,” Eiglarsh said. He said Peterson acted heroically during the shooting, staying put to transmit whatever information he had and would have charged into the building if he knew where the shooter was. But if he did that or went elsewhere without solid information and the shooter then killed others where Peterson had left, he would have been prosecuted for that.

“He was damned no matter what,” Eiglarsh said.

Peterson, the school’s on-campus deputy, is being tried for felony child neglect and other charges for the deaths and injuries on the third floor. He is not charged in connection with the deaths of 11 people killed on the first floor before he reached the building. It is the first time a U.S. law enforcement officer has been tried in connection with a school shooting.

Peterson, 60, sometimes looked down and shook his head during the prosecution’s presentation. Several members of the victims’ families glared at Eiglarsh from the gallery during his argument.

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Prosecutors, during their two-week presentation, called to the witness stand students, teachers and law enforcement officers who testified about the horror they experienced and how they knew where Cruz was. Some said they knew for certain the shots were coming from the 1200 building. Prosecutors also called a training supervisor who testified Peterson did not follow protocols for confronting an active shooter.

Eiglarsh during his two-day presentation called several deputies who arrived during the shooting and students and teachers who testified they did not think the shots were coming from the 1200 building. Peterson did not testify.

Eiglarsh also emphasized the failure of the sheriff’s radio system during the attack, which limited what Peterson heard from arriving deputies. Gomes said the radio system worked well during the critical first minutes of the attack, with Peterson being the one with the best information as he was within feet of the building.

The jury will also have to decide whether Peterson was a caregiver to the juvenile students who died and were wounded on the third floor — a legal requirement for him to be convicted of child neglect. Florida law defines a caregiver as “a parent, adult household member or other person responsible for a child’s welfare.” Caregivers are guilty of felony neglect if they fail to make a “reasonable effort” to protect children or don’t provide necessary care.

The six jury members deliberated for about 90 minutes Monday before adjourning until Tuesday.

Gomes said every parent who dropped their child off that morning expected Peterson to protect the students. Eiglarsh said Peterson was not responsible for feeding or clothing the students, so he was not their caregiver.

Security videos show that 36 seconds after Cruz’s attack began, Peterson exited his office about 100 yards (92 meters) from the 1200 building and jumped into a cart with two unarmed civilian security guards. They arrived at the building a minute later.

Peterson got out of the cart near the east doorway to the first-floor hallway. Cruz was at the hallway’s opposite end, firing his AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.

Peterson, who was not wearing a bullet-resistant vest, did not open the door. Instead, he took cover 75-feet (23 meters) away in the alcove of a neighboring building, his gun still drawn. He stayed there for 40 minutes, long after the shooting ended and other police officers had stormed the building.

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Gomes’ colleague, Chris Killoran, told the jury during the prosecution’s rebuttal argument that if Peterson truly didn’t know the shooter’s location and wanted to find him, he would have looked into the 1200 building as he was only feet away.

Peterson faces up to nearly 100 years in prison if convicted, although because of his clean record a sentence anywhere near that length is highly unlikely. He could also lose his $104,000 annual pension. He had spent nearly three decades working at schools, including nine years at Stoneman Douglas. He retired shortly after the shooting and was then fired retroactively.

Cruz’s jury could not unanimously agree he deserved the death penalty. The 24-year-old former Stoneman Douglas student was then sentenced to life in prison.

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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