New Florida governor suspends sheriff over school massacre
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel today over his handling of February's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The Republican governor flew to Fort Lauderdale three days after taking office to remove the Democratic sheriff, appointing a former police sergeant to serve as acting sheriff. Gregory Tony, 40, worked for Coral Springs police for 12 years before leaving in 2016 to start a company specializing in active-shooter training. He is the first African-American to serve as Broward's sheriff.
DeSantis' office issued a statement saying, "Sheriff Israel has repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership. He failed to protect Floridians and visitors during the tragic Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting in 2017. He failed in his duties to keep our families and children safe during the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. These incidents demonstrate Sheriff's Israel's repeated incompetence and neglect of duty."
The statement added, "The families of the victims deserve accountability."
Minutes after DeSantis' announcement, Israel said he would fight the suspension.
"There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the county honorably," he said. "False narratives many continue, but not in a court of law. In a court of law, only the facts matter."
Israel said he "wholeheartedly" rejected the governor's order and would fight it in court, arguing that DeSantis was making a "power grab" against the will of the county's people who elected him.
Under Florida law, the governor can suspend elected officials for criminal activity, misfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty. Israel's lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, said this week the sheriff did nothing warranting removal and his future should be left to Broward voters in the 2020 election. Israel had been sheriff six years.
Last April, DeSantis said he would have suspended Israel if he were governor. He backed off later in the campaign, saying only that he would hold officeholders accountable. DeSantis' Republican predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, refused to suspend Israel, saying he wanted to wait until investigations into the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead were complete before deciding.
Some parents of Stoneman Douglas victims and conservative state lawmakers began pushing for Israel's ouster shortly after the shooting when it was revealed that the Broward deputy assigned to guard the school, Scot Peterson, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter and his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, but took cover outside.