Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was suspended from his post Friday over what new Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said were egregious failings of the department during the Parkland, Florida, mass shooting last year, where 17 people were killed.
The newly sworn-in governor had been hinting he would fire Israel for some time, blasting the sheriff for the department’s response to the high school shooting and the decision by some deputies not to confront the shooter. On Friday, he signed an executive order barring Israel from his public post and from being paid, indefinitely.
“I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis, a Republican, said at a press conference outside the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. “Just suffice it to say that the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
The department’s response to the deadly shooting was quickly criticized after reports that a school resource deputy, as well as other officers from the department, waited outside the school with guns drawn as shots continued to ring out as the gunman killed children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
At least six deputies were near the shooter, a commission report issued Jan. 2 found, but none of the officers confronted him.
The executive order signed by DeSantis on Friday afternoon criticized the sheriff for adopting a policy that said deputies “may” enter the area of an active shooter, instead of instructing them to approach and stop the gunman.
It also pointed out that the sheriff had told deputies to “exercise discretion” and not be “engaging in ‘suicide missions’” when responding to active-shooter scenarios.
Israel was also criticized for the department’s lack of action in previous interactions with the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, as, according to department records, deputies had been called out to his home 45 times before the shooting.
Israel also landed in political hot water when, shortly after the shooting, he criticized the National Rifle Association’s response to mass shootings. The Broward County Sheriff’s deputies union also broke with Israel and pushed for his removal from office.
He held his own press conference after the governor’s announcement, calling his removal from office a political move by the NRA-backed governor.
“The National Rifle Association controls the governor’s actions and they’re now trying to control law enforcement in Broward County,” Israel told reporters while flanked by supporters.
Israel said he would challenge the suspension and run for sheriff again in 2020.
“Let me be clear, I wholeheartedly reject the statements in the governor’s executive order as lacking legal merit and a valid factual basis,” he said. “There was no wrongdoing on my part.”
DeSantis named Gregory Tony, a former sergeant at the neighboring Coral Springs Police Department, as interim sheriff of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.
Tony will become the first black sheriff for the county, DeSantis said.
“This is a new day,” DeSantis said. “It’s a chance to take a step forward.”
At the press conference, DeSantis was accompanied by parents of many of the students killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, including critics of Israel’s who had been pushing for his removal.
“Today proves Ron DeSantis is a man of his word,” Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, was killed in the shooting. “Our community and our kids will be much safer now that Sheriff Israel is out of office.”