Cited fail­ures dur­ing Park­land shoot­ing

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Lisa J. Huri­ash, An­thony Man, Linda Trischitta and Brit­tany Wall­man

Gov. Ron DeSan­tis re­moved Broward Sher­iff Scott Is­rael from of­fice Fri­day, re­plac­ing him af­ter 10 months of tur­moil spawned by the slaugh­ter of 17 staff and stu­dents in Park­land.

The new gov­er­nor re­placed Is­rael with for­mer Coral Springs Po­lice Sgt. Gre­gory Tony, 40, who has a back­ground in ac­tive-shooter train­ing and be­comes the first black sher­iff in Broward County’s his­tory.

DeSan­tis an­nounced the sus­pen­sion at the Broward Sher­iff ’s Of­fice head­quar­ters while the dis­placed for­mer sher­iff pre­pared his re­sponse from a church in north­west Fort Lauderdale.

“I have no in­ter­est in danc­ing on Scott Is­rael’s po­lit­i­cal

grave,” DeSan­tis said of the Demo­cratic for­mer sher­iff, “but suf­fice it to say the mas­sacre might never have hap­pened had Broward had bet­ter lead­er­ship in the sher­iff ’s depart­ment.”

In his ex­ec­u­tive or­der, the gov­er­nor cited Is­rael for in­com­pe­tence and ne­glect of duty. DeSan­tis said Is­rael “egre­giously failed in his du­ties” by not prop­erly train­ing deputies and not main­tain­ing “a cul­ture of vig­i­lance and thor­ough­ness,” among other weak­nesses.

The sus­pen­sion caps a nearly year-long se­ries of rev­e­la­tions that ex­posed the fail­ure of Broward sher­iff’s deputies to run in to save chil­dren at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School as a for­mer stu­dent marched through the halls with an as­sault ri­fle.

Some deputies said they couldn’t re­mem­ber when they’d last been trained to han­dle an ac­tive shooter, even though the agency had a con­fused, chaotic re­sponse to a mass shoot­ing at Fort Lauderdale-Hol­ly­wood In­ter­na­tional Air­port in 2017.

Much of the crit­i­cism has focused on Is­rael’s lead­er­ship. Though he en­joyed strong pop­u­lar­ity in Broward be­fore the shoot­ing, Is­rael’s star fell in the af­ter­math, par­tic­u­larly af­ter a dis­as­trous ap­pear­ance on CNN in which he praised his own lead­er­ship and glossed over his agency’s mis­takes.

Af­ter he was re­moved from of­fice Fri­day, Is­rael, backed by re­li­gious lead­ers and sup­port­ers, ac­cused the gov­er­nor of car­ry­ing out a po­lit­i­cal mis­sion be­cause the sher­iff had spo­ken out against gun vi­o­lence. Don­ning a blue pin­stripe suit and red tie in­stead of his usual green Sher­iff’s Of­fice uni­form, Is­rael said he would seek ev­ery av­enue to con­test the sus­pen­sion, in­clud­ing mak­ing his case in a hear­ing be­fore the Florida Se­nate.

“This was about pol­i­tics, not about Park­land,” Is­rael said.

Is­rael's at­tor­ney Stu­art Kaplan, said that while mis­takes oc­curred, the shooter is the only per­son re­spon­si­ble for the lives lost at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School.

Many fam­ily mem­bers of vic­tims and peo­ple in Park­land blame Is­rael for the agency’s han­dling of the teenage killer dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions be­fore the shoot­ing, and for the way it han­dled the un­fold­ing tragedy. Coral Springs of­fi­cers showed valor, run­ning into the school. They re­ported be­ing rou­tinely trained to run to­ward gun­fire. Many of the sher­iff’s deputies, mean­while, crouched be­hind trees or cars and didn’t try to en­ter the school.

Is­rael had changed the agency’s pol­icy from deputies “shall” go in af­ter an ac­tive shooter, to they “may” go in — an­other flaw cited by DeSan­tis. Is­rael re­cently changed it back.

The voice of par­ents

“On Feb. 14, my daugh­ter died on the third floor of MSD run­ning down the hallway from an ac­tive shooter,” one of the griev­ing par­ents, Fred Gut­ten­berg, said Fri­day at the an­nounce­ment. “One more sec­ond, and she makes it into the stair­well. She needed one more sec­ond. If any­body wants to know what fail­ure means, and lack of re­sponse, my daugh­ter would have lived if some­body could have just given her one more sec­ond.”

An­drew Pol­lack, whose daugh­ter Meadow was killed, em­ceed the par­ents’ por­tion of the event, where other fam­ily mem­bers of vic­tims spoke.

Pol­lack said his next tar­get is Broward Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Run­cie, though DeSan­tis said he isn’t sure if he has the au­thor­ity to sus­pend an ap­pointed su­per­in­ten­dent. Pol­lack said he’d see to it him­self that Run­cie loses his job.

“I get things done,” Pol­lack said, “and there’s noth­ing on this planet that I can’t get done, es­pe­cially since my daugh­ter was mur­dered. And I have the heart of a lion, OK, and I’m not go­ing any­where.”

Pol­lack con­nected the new sher­iff, Tony, with DeSan­tis.

“We all went to the same gym to­gether and that’s where we all met,” Pol­lack said af­ter the an­nounce­ment Fri­day. “I think he’s go­ing to do a won­der­ful job and the com­mu­nity’s go­ing to get be­hind him, and the kids are go­ing to be safer, and the com­mu­nity as a whole will be safer.”

Tony, a res­i­dent of Boca Ra­ton, worked for 12 years as an of­fi­cer and then sergeant in Coral Springs. His for­mer boss, Coral Springs Chief Clyde Parry, said Tony has a “bright fu­ture” and he was sorry to see him leave the agency in 2016.

Tony and his wife, Holly, a nurse, op­er­ate Blue Spear So­lu­tions, which spe­cial­izes in ac­tive-shooter train­ing and pro­vides threat as­sess­ments on schools and other busi­nesses.

The Florida Con­sti­tu­tion gives the gov­er­nor power to sus­pend pub­lic of­fi­cials for “malfea­sance, mis­fea­sance, ne­glect of duty.” Gover­nors rou­tinely re­move pub­lic of­fi­cials who are ar­rested or charged with crimes, but it is un­usual to re­move an of­fice­holder who does not face crim­i­nal charges.

Broward Com­mis­sioner Nan Rich said she doesn’t think the County Com­mis­sion will at­tempt to chal­lenge Is­rael’s sus­pen­sion, even though she doesn’t agree with it.

“I’m per­son­ally just very con­cerned about our democ­racy and all these sug­ges­tions and rec­om­men­da­tions about re­mov­ing peo­ple that have been elected and have not been in­dicted of any crime,” Rich said. “We live in a democ­racy, not an au­toc­racy, and I would just like to main­tain it.”

Sec­ond of­fice­holder re­moved

It was the sec­ond re­moval of a coun­ty­wide elected of­fi­cial in Broward in two months. For­mer Gov. Rick Scott sus­pended elec­tions su­per­vi­sor Dr. Brenda Snipes at the end of Novem­ber. Snipes had al­ready sub­mit­ted a let­ter of res­ig­na­tion.

The news con­fer­ence Fri­day at Broward sher­iff ’s head­quar­ters at­tracted a stream of pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Repub­li­can state Rep. Chip LaMarca, new state Emer­gency Management Di­rec­tor Jared Moskowitz of Park­land, and Coral Springs Com­mis­sioner Joshua Sim­mons.

Pro­test­ers also ap­peared, in­clud­ing one man who is part of the QAnon con­spir­acy the­ory move­ment, peo­ple ac­tive in Don­ald Trump clubs in Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties, and Repub­li­can Party ac­tivists from Broward and Palm Beach coun­ties.

The crowd ap­plauded Park­land par­ents who spoke and re­acted neg­a­tively to men­tion of Scott Is­rael. At one point, when the gov­er­nor men­tioned his name, one per­son in the crowd — just one — yelled “lock him up.”

Re­ac­tion to the re­moval was mixed in Broward, where most elected of­fi­cials carry the same Demo­cratic la­bel that Is­rael does.

Broward Com­mis­sioner Steve Geller, a Demo­crat and for­mer state se­na­tor, doesn’t think DeSan­tis had a le­gal ba­sis for re­mov­ing Is­rael.

Broward Com­mis­sioner Michael Udine, who rep­re­sents the Park­land area, said he wasn’t look­ing “into the pol­i­tics of this.” He was more focused on ac­count­abil­ity.

“I think that the MSD re­port and com­mon sense lead­er­ship prin­ci­ples, and lis­ten­ing to all the fam­i­lies with 17 dead rel­a­tives, I think it made it clear that there had to be some kind of changes made in that or­ga­ni­za­tion,” said Udine, also a Demo­crat.

A re­port from the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School Pub­lic Safety Com­mis­sion de­tailed a se­ries of prob­lems with the agency’s per­for­mance dur­ing the mas­sacre.

Res­ig­na­tions at the top

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ashley Moody is­sued a state­ment say­ing there is am­ple jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in that re­port for Is­rael’s re­moval, in­clud­ing ra­dio fail­ures that in­di­cate a lack of at­ten­tion to re­sources, a fail­ure to es­tab­lish a com­mand post and take con­trol of the shoot­ing re­sponse, a lack of co­or­di­na­tion with other re­spond­ing agen­cies, lack of train­ing and fail­ures by deputies who en­coun­tered the shooter be­fore Feb. 14.

An­tic­i­pat­ing the sus­pen­sion, five of Is­rael’s com­mand staff sub­mit­ted sep­a­ra­tion forms.

The rank­ing deputies who said they were leav­ing for per­sonal rea­sons are Col. John “Jack” Dale, who wrote on his form, “Ac­tions by gov­er­nor not in the best in­ter­est of pub­lic safety,” and Un­der­sh­er­iff Steve Kin­sey, the sec­ond in com­mand at the agency un­der Is­rael, who wrote on his form, “Due to the sher­iff be­ing sus­pended un­justly.”

Dale was ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the agency’s depart­ment of pro­fes­sional stan­dards and the depart­ment of in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Ma­jor Kevin S. Shults, who was in charge of train­ing, also re­signed.

Dale, Kin­sey and Shults were among many high-rank­ing of­fi­cials Is­rael hired from his for­mer em­ployer, the Fort Lauderdale Po­lice Depart­ment.

Ma­jor Chad­wick Wag­ner, a for­mer Hol­ly­wood po­lice chief who served as BSO hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor, said his rea­son for leav­ing in­cluded “the un­just de­ci­sion by Gov. Ron DeSan­tis to re­move Broward County Sher­iff Scott J. Is­rael. Sher­iff Is­rael has been twice elected by Broward County res­i­dents. This is a de­ci­sion that only the res­i­dent vot­ers of Broward County should de­cide.”

Col. James Polan re­tired ef­fec­tive Thurs­day and did not com­ment on his form.

Broward Sher­iff’s Sgt. An­thony Mar­ciano, pres­i­dent of the Fed­er­a­tion of Pub­lic Em­ploy­ees union, rep­re­sent­ing de­ten­tion deputies, court­room deputies and oth­ers, said Is­rael made some mis­steps: He spoke pub­licly too soon, when in­ves­ti­ga­tions were still go­ing on; he didn’t take re­spon­si­bil­ity; and he un­nec­es­sar­ily “poked a big bear that he didn’t need to poke” when he chal­lenged the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, Mar­ciano said.

But Mar­ciano said Is­rael’s fate would have bet­ter been left to vot­ers.

“I lis­tened to all the MSD com­mis­sion meet­ings, and the sher­iff said one thing that should have res­onated with ev­ery­body: ‘You can’t teach courage to peo­ple,’ ” Mar­ciano said.

Jeff Bell, head of the deputies’ In­ter­na­tional Union of Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tions and a mem­ber of DeSan­tis’ tran­si­tion team, had a more harsh as­sess­ment.

“He has turned this agency, the largest fully ac­cred­ited sher­iff ’s of­fice in the coun­try, into a po­lit­i­cal ma­chine for his own well-be­ing,” Bell said. “He’s in­com­pe­tent and should be re­moved per­ma­nently be­fore any­one else is killed on his watch.”

DeSan­tis said Tony was “tai­lor-made” for the job.

Tony is build­ing a tran­si­tion team and is ex­pected to name his un­der­sh­er­iff — the sec­ond in com­mand — as early as this week­end, a source told the South Florida Sun Sen­tinel.

“I am not here for any type of po­lit­i­cal grandiose agenda,” Tony said in his pub­lic re­marks Fri­day. “I’m here to serve.”

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