News & Politics

Gov. DeSantis Expected to Remove Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel from Office

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks during a news conference at Fort Lauderdale–Hollywood International Airport, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel will soon be given his marching orders, the Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

Since February 2018, the controversial sheriff has come under withering assault over the sheriff’s office’s handling of the Parkland massacre that claimed 17 lives and left 17 wounded. Almost immediately, Israel faced calls to resign due to his department’s woeful incompetence and dereliction of duty before, during, and after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Although he has not made a formal announcement, Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to make good on his campaign promise and give the two-term sheriff the heave-ho.

According to the Herald, Israel “told his top commanders that he will be removed from office” by the new governor. DeSantis was sworn in on Tuesday morning.

Local 10 News reported that a number of Parkland parents of slain students are requesting that DeSantis remove Israel.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter died in the shooting, was a member of DeSantis’ transition team and said Tuesday that Israel should be suspended for failing to protect the students. He said he expects Israel to be suspended, but DeSantis has not told him anything.

Israel “has no morals and takes no responsibility” for the shooting, Pollack said. “It would mean a lot to us — and the whole community at large — if he is removed from office. The community needs better leadership.”

One of Israel’s lawyers told the media that the sheriff was in his office in Fort Lauderdale still working on Tuesday.

“The governor has not said anything to us, directly or indirectly, as to whether or not the sheriff is going to be suspended,’’ Stuart N. Kaplan said. “He is working and continues to serve the citizens of Broward County.’’ The sheriff has always defended his agency’s actions during the shooting.

But Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association union chief Jeff Bell said Israel told his staff on Monday that his ouster was imminent.

“We know that he is telling everyone at the public safety building that he is going to be gone,’’ said Bell, who was at DeSantis’s swearing-in ceremony in Tallahassee Tuesday morning.

Several candidates have been mentioned as possible replacements, including former Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti, a Republican like DeSantis. But Bell would not indicate whether the union was backing anyone.

“What I will say is we want someone who will remove politics out of police work and commit to protecting the citizens and our children in the schools,’’ Bell said.

There were unconfirmed reports that Israel’s undersheriff, Steve Kinsey, had resigned. The sheriff’s communications office did not respond to requests for comment.

Israel, 61, has vowed to fight any effort to strip him of his office. He maintains that while mistakes were made in responding to the shootings, they were not serious enough to warrant his suspension or removal from office.

Israel was initially hailed as a hero in the aftermath of the shooting, appearing at numerous media briefings and demagoguing shamelessly during a CNN town hall in front of a cheering anti-gun mob.

But gradually, as more facts about his department’s conduct came out, calls for Israel to resign came from politicians, activists, conservative media, and others.

The school’s disgraceful sheriff’s deputy, Scot Peterson, took cover outside rather than run toward the building where the shots were being fired.

Later, bodycam video showed another deputy, in leisurely fashion, sorting through his trunk for his bulletproof vest and then crouching behind his car for several minutes as the shots were heard.

Although Israel publicly criticized Peterson for his inaction during the massacre, he didn’t fire the 54-year-old. Instead, he allowed Peterson to resign and receive a $100,000-a-year public pension.

Even worse, damning officer reports released by the Coral Springs Police Department in April revealed that Israel’s deputies made no attempt to go inside the school during those critical first moments of the assault. Instead, some of them were said to be “cowering behind their cars and a nearby tree.”

In his report, Officer Bryan Wilkins wrote that he arrived at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School within minutes of the active shooter alert — only to find Broward County Sheriff’s officers taking cover behind their vehicles.

“I saw approximately four Broward County Sheriff’s Office vehicles parked in the west bound lane with their personnel taking up exterior positions behind their vehicles,” Wilkins wrote. “I drove up just west of the campus building 1200, exited my vehicle, grabbed my AR-15 rifle and donned on my tactical/medical gear. As I was advancing on foot through the chain-link fence, I was advised by an unknown BSO Deputy taking cover behind a tree, ‘he is on the third floor.'”

The BSO union took an electronic poll of its members asking them about their confidence in Sheriff Israel. Eighty-five percent of the members who voted — 534 out of 628 — expressed “no confidence” in the sheriff’s leadership.

A state panel investigating the massacre released a 458-page report last week that detailed how the killer, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, was able to shoot so many victims inside the freshman building at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.

The committee blamed security breakdowns and a lack of training on the part of Broward sheriff’s deputies, some of whom took cover outside the building instead of promptly charging inside to confront the shooter, as officers from neighboring Coral Springs did. The report listed a number of other failures by BSO and the Broward school district. Those other BSO problems included outdated, malfunctioning radios, which prevented rescuers from responding more quickly and possibly saving lives, the report said.

It took Broward County school system officials until May to admit that Nikolas Cruz was assigned to the controversial PROMISE program. Both the superintendent and the Broward Sheriff’s Office denied repeatedly that Cruz had a connection to the Obama-era disciplinary program.

The Broward County school system adopted the lenient discipline policy in 2013, making it much more difficult for administrators to suspend or expel troubled, often violent students, or for school resource officers to arrest them for misdemeanors. A parallel “civil citation” program works to protect students from arrest for off-campus criminality.

Veteran FBI agent Michael Biasello told RealClearInvestigations’ Paul Sperry: “He had a clean record, so alarm bells didn’t go off when they looked him up in the system. He probably wouldn’t have been able to buy the murder weapon if the school had referred him to law enforcement.”

If Gov. DeSantis does suspend Israel, the sheriff will request a trial before the Florida Senate to fight it, his lawyer said.

“I’m not sure his decision is being made on merit or on fact — or is he just now concerned about following through on a campaign promise that is politically motivated. Scott Israel has never wavered that the school district and school children and all members of the community are safe. There is a false insinuation on the part of the public — a feeling that BSO is somehow a better agency just because Scott Israel has been removed,’’ Kaplan said.

The responsibility of what action to take ultimately falls on Florida’s Legislature and DeSantis. The 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas public safety commission’s report, approved unanimously last week, noted that long after the mass shooting, key people involved in the incident, including sheriff’s deputies and high school assistant principals, provided investigators with accounts that contradicted the evidence, including surveillance video, leading the panel to believe they were either incompetent or untruthful.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the inadequate response to the school shooting.