Flanked by members of a local African-American faith community, a defiant Scott Israel defended himself against allegations of incompetence on Friday and made clear he would fight his suspension on any front necessary — whether before the Florida Senate or in state or federal court.
Israel, 62, a two-term Democratic sheriff of Broward County, was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis three days after the new Republican governor was sworn into office. DeSantis cited a list of failures enumerated by a state panel that investigated BSO’s response to the Feb. 14, 2018, shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
But Israel, clad in a suit and tie rather than his usual sheriff’s uniform, said DeSantis’ actions were motivated by politics, not facts.
“Sadly, this is not about what occurred on Feb. 14 ,’’ he said at a news conference at New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale. “The governor promised as a candidate — well before he had any facts about the investigation, well before the commission even began their work — that he would remove me from office.’’
He added: “Today he merely fulfilled a campaign promise. This was about politics — not about Parkland.’’
After expressing his sympathies for the families who lost loved ones in the mass shooting, Israel insisted he had not failed in his duty.
“There was no wrongdoing on my part,” he said. “I served the county honorably and I will continue to do that.”
His lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, said that not only would Israel fight the governor’s order, but he would run for re-election when his term ends in 2020.
“There certainly were mistakes made,’’ Kaplan said. “But in every situation we can always identify things that could be done better...it does not in any way rise to the level to single out Sheriff Israel and hold him accountable for what happened.’’
Kaplan said that they were still exploring avenues to challenge the suspension, which the governor issued at his own news conference in Fort Lauderdale about an hour before.
DeSantis appointed a former Coral Springs sergeant, Gregory Tony, 40, to replace Israel. Tony, a Democrat like Israel, will fill the remainder of Israel’s term, unless the ousted sheriff is successful in fighting his suspension.
Tony, a Philadelphia native and graduate of Florida State, is president of Blue Spear Solutions, a security company that specializes in active shooter and mass casualty training. Israel had faced fierce criticism for nearly a year over his agency’s response to the rampage that claimed the lives of 14 students and three staff members. Seventeen others were injured when Cruz was able to walk onto campus and into the freshman building with a high-powered rifle and at least 180 rounds of ammunition.
A report issued by the panel investigating the response found that several BSO deputies failed to run into the building to try to stop the gunman — or were slow and inadequately trained to confront the killer and stop him.
Meanwhile, officers from neighboring Coral Springs were largely praised for their response. Tony retired from the force in 2016 so he was no longer a member of the department when the tragedy happened.