Sheriff Scott Israel removed from office after criticism of Parkland school shooting response

Gov. Ron DeSantis removed the Broward County sheriff, saying he had shown "repeated incompetence and neglect of duty."
Image: Sheriff Israel addresses the news media outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland
Sheriff Scott Israel addresses the news media outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School following a school shooting on Feb. 15, 2018 in Parkland, Florida.Thom Baur / Reuters file

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By David K. Li

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday suspended embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, whose department has been criticized for its response to last year's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

DeSantis, who just took office after winning election in November, appointed former Coral Springs police Sgt. Gregory Tony, now president of an active-shooter response training company, as the new sheriff, saying that Israel had displayed "incompetence and neglect of duty."

"The massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff's department," DeSantis said.

Seventeen students and educators were killed on Feb. 14 at the high school, after which the Broward County Sheriff Department's response that day has been called into question.

DeSantis also criticized the department's handling of a 2017 shooting that killed five people at Fort Lauderdale Hollywood International Airport.

"He failed in his duties to keep our families and children safe during the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14,2018," according to a statement by DeSantis.

"These incidents demonstrate Sheriff Israel’s repeated incompetence and neglect of duty."

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Israel defended his job performance and said he will fight the governor's suspension.

"I intend to vigorously fight this unjustified suspension both in court and before the Florida Senate," Israel said Friday. "There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the county honorably."

Under Florida law, a governor can suspend elected officials for any number of job performance issues. But that officeholder can challenge the suspension to the state senate, which would then hold a trial.

DeSantis, a Republican, made the announcement at Broward County Sheriff's headquarters in Fort Lauderdale with some survivors of the Parkland shooting behind him.

"The families of the victims deserve accountability," De Santis said. "It is my job as governor to ensure that the safety of our local communities, especially the safety of our children, is paramount. Government officials must be held accountable for their actions, and/or inactions. For these reasons, I am suspending Sheriff Israel from office effective immediately.”

Israel, 62, was first elected sheriff in 2012, beating a Republican incumbent. He had been a Republican before switching to be Democrat just before his first run for sheriff in 2008 in the overwhelmingly Democratic county.

Israel on Friday accused DeSantis of trying to score political points

"This was about politics — not about Parkland," he said.

A state commission found that the Broward Sheriff’s Department should have had policies telling deputies to confront active shooters.

The suspected killer, Nikolas Cruz, roamed the hallways and shot his victims without any confrontation from responding deputies.

Scot Peterson, the deputy assigned to the school, took a position outside the school's Building 1200 as gunshots rang out. Security video showed Peterson outside the building without going inside to confront the shooter.

Before DeSantis' announcement, officials announced that five of Israel's top staff — including Undersheriff Stephen Kinsey and Col. John Dale — had resigned.

The new sheriff appointed by the governor, Gregory Tony, will be Broward County's first African-American sheriff.

"I am not here for any type of political, grandiose agenda. I'm here to serve," he said.

Associated Press contributed.