Sheriff suspended over handling of Parkland shooting
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was suspended from office Friday by Florida’s new governor, a move that comes after nearly a year of intense criticism over how the sheriff’s office responded to a rampage inside a Parkland, Florida, high school.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who took office on Tuesday, traveled to Broward to announce his decision to remove Israel, a Democrat re-elected to a second term in 2016. Israel became a lightning rod after revelations that one of his deputies failed to confront the shooter and that, long before the first shot was fired, the Broward Sheriff’s Office had repeatedly contacts with the former student charged with killing 17 people at the school.
In his executive order, DeSantis highlighted these and other details in explaining why he made the unusual decision to dismiss an elected official, stating that Israel “egregiously” failed in his role as the top law enforcement officer in Broward.
“The neglect of duty and the incompetence that was connected to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been well documented,” DeSantis said at a news conference, joined by relatives of some Parkland victims. “Suffice it to say that the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
DeSantis’ executive order pointed to the findings of a state commission that investigated the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting in Parkland; his order also includes previous criticisms of how Israel’s office responded to a shooting at the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, airport in January 2017. The Parkland commission submitted a report singling out the Broward Sher- iff’s Office for its policies on ongoing attacks, a lack of training and how it responded to the gunfire. The panel also found that multiple deputies, rather than one, failed to rush toward the attacker.
Israel pilloried DeSantiss decision as “a massive political power grab by the governor” and vowed to fight the move in court and before the Florida Senate.
“I wholeheartedly reject the statements in the governor’s executive order as lacking both legal merit and a valid factual basis,” Israel said during a news conference after DeSantis’ order was released. “There was no wrongdoing on my part.”
He added: “This was about politics, not about Parkland.”
Israel’s attorney, Stuart Kaplan, said they were still determining their legal path forward and added that Israel planned to run again for sheriff in 2020.
Under the Florida constitution, the governor can suspend officials for reasons including “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.” DeSantis invoked both of those in his order, which says Israel is prohibited from receiving pay. To replace Israel, DeSantis selected Gregory Tony, who runs a firm that offers active-shooter training and is a retired police sergeant who worked in Coral Springs, Florida, a city that neighbors Parkland.
DeSantis’ decision to suspend Israel was widely expected, as he had said during the gubernatorial campaign that the sheriff should have been removed from office. With DeSantis taking office Tuesday, media reports began circulating in South Florida saying Israel had told people he expected to be suspended.
While mass attacks are often followed by reviews that reveal missteps or ominous warning signs, the Parkland shooting was remarkable for the sheer breadth of red flags preceding the massacre. Nikolas Cruz, the 20-year-old police say confessed to the shooting, had come to the attention of local, state and federal officials again and again. Some of the warnings — including those made to the FBI and Broward Sheriff’s Office — were explicit in labeling Cruz as a threat to attack a school. In Florida on Friday, DeSantis offered additional criticism for the FBI, calling its failure to act “a disgrace.”