After delivering a resounding vote of no confidence Thursday, members of the Broward County deputies union want Sheriff Scott Israel removed from office, signifying their distaste with the leader's media-centric response to the Parkland school shooting.
About a week after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Israel confronted a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association during a heated town hall on CNN, calling her out for claiming to support the victims but not advocating for "less weapons."
"He went on a town hall forum and tried to make [the shooting] an NRA issue before we had finished burying the 17 lives we lost that day," Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association, told BuzzFeed News.
Of the 628 members who voted, 534 said they had no confidence in Israel, he said, adding that it was the union's first time delivering such a vote against a sheriff. Ninety members backed him.
"I am really proud of the guys who stood up and voted even with the fear of retaliation," Bell said. "We voted for a number of reasons and are calling out the sheriff for being a liar and we don't trust him."
Despite multiple state leaders calling for his resignation, Israel has refused to step down, declaring in February that he has "given amazing leadership to this agency."
In addition to the sheriff's handling of the Valentine's Day shooting, Bell explained there are "numerous" other reasons hundreds of deputies want him out of office, including aging facilities, lack of proper training, "instances of misconduct," and an overarching sense of "lack of leadership."
For instance, Bell notes, Israel appeared on CNN's State of the Union following the school massacre and "touted what an amazing leader he is."
"That's not a leader," stressed the sheriff's deputy, who says he has been with the department since 1994. "What makes a leader are those who are standing behind you and the only ones who are standing behind him are the cronies in the agency. The members don't stand with him at all."
Israel, who has been both defensive and critical of how his department and deputies handled the shooting, slammed the union, rebuffed the "inconsequential" vote, and belittled its significance.
"I am accountable to the citizens of Broward County. My job is to continue to do the job I was elected to do, which is to ensure the safety of Broward County's 1.9 million residents," Israel said in a statement. "I will not be distracted from my duties by this inconsequential IUPA union vote, which was designed to extort a 6.5 percent pay raise from this agency. Those who purportedly voted in this straw ballot reflect only a small number of the 5,400 BSO employees. The unions representing the vast majority of our employees solidly support the leadership of this agency."
The department has been under fire for how it responded to the shooting, as well as failing to act on repeated warnings about the shooter. Several deputies never entered the school during the attack but remained posted outside with their guns drawn. School resource officer Scot Peterson resigned after it was revealed that he remained in the same position for four minutes as suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz gunned down his former teachers and classmates and even advised his fellow officers to stay away from the building where the shooting was taking place.
Records show the department received two phone calls warning that Cruz was a potential school shooter with an arsenal of weapons, and deputies responded to at least 45 calls pertaining to Cruz and his family over the years, fueling allegations that the department grossly mishandled repeated warning signs.
The union is now asking Gov. Rick Scott to remove Israel from office. Under Florida law, the governor has the power to suspend the sheriff for misconduct and neglect of duty. Only the state Senate has the power to remove him.
Due to a plethora of seemingly missed flags and missteps by law enforcement, the governor ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate authorities' response to Parkland. The report is expected to be concluded by the end of this month, according to Bell.
"There's a strong possibility Israel might be removed in the next few weeks," he said. "The sooner the better. We are drowning in media attention that is not allowing us to do our jobs down here."