As the Broward County Sheriff’s Office reviews its handling of the school shooting in Parkland, a South Florida lawmaker on Saturday called on Gov. Rick Scott to remove the sheriff from office for “neglect of duty and incompetence.”
In his letter, Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, pointed to the “unfathomable inaction” of Sheriff Scott Israel’s department in not acting on reports of gunman Nikolas Cruz’s erratic and dangerous behavior — including threats to shoot up a school — and of not intervening while Cruz killed 17 students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day.
“An investigation by Sheriff Israel into the unfathomable inaction of those deputies will do nothing to bring back the 17 victims,” said Hager, the House Justice Appropriations chairman. “The sheriff was fully aware of the threat this individual presented to his community and chose to ignore it.”
Before he committed the worst high school shooting in U.S. history, Cruz’s behavior was repeatedly flagged by local and federal law enforcement and state social services. Yet the 19-year-old was able to legally purchase an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, the weapon he used to shoot and kill the 17.
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Hager referenced reports that BSO had received 23 calls about Cruz or his family, and that deputies visited Cruz’s residence 39 times over a seven-year span.
In November, a tipster called BSO to say Cruz “could be a school shooter in the making,” but deputies did not write up a report on that warning. Weeks earlier, a relative called urging the sheriff’s office to seize Cruz’s weapons.
In 2016, according to a timeline of interactions with Cruz’s family, the BSO school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas received a report that Cruz “planned to shoot up the school,” but no apparent action was taken.
The school’s resource officer, Scot Peterson, 54, was suspended without pay, then immediately resigned and retired, after coming under scrutiny for failing to enter the classroom building when the massacre began on Feb. 14, instead taking cover outside the building for about four minutes while Cruz fired shot after deadly shot.
Two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty while BSO’s Internal Affairs investigates how they handled the two shooter warnings.
As Hager highlights in his letter, Peterson may not have been the only Broward deputy who didn’t immediately enter the building during Cruz’s rampage, according to a report late Friday by CNN.
The network, quoting anonymous sources in Coral Springs, reported that when Coral Springs police officers arrived at the school, three other armed county deputies were also outside the building taking cover behind their vehicles.
Israel told the Miami Herald that Coral Springs Police Chief Tony Pustizzi had relayed the same report to him. He said BSO would look into the overall response, but stressed that the shooting was already over by the time the Coral Spring police officers had arrived.
“We know it was approximately four minutes after the shooter departed the school when the first Coral Springs police officers arrived,’’ he told the Miami Heraldd. “We’re investigating every aspect of this.”
In a statement released to the media, Hager also expressed frustration with the apparent lack of communication and action on all levels of government, calling on the governor to direct some appropriations meant for the BSO to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for a pilot program in Broward County to “integrate and analyze data” across all agencies to better assess risk and protect the public.
“Sadly, he was not the only one that ignored it,” Hager said of Israel. “[The Department of Children and Families], Broward County Schools, the FBI and the BSO all had pivotal information but failed to act appropriately and failed to communicate appropriately.”
Israel sent a letter to Scott late Saturday night saying Hager’s “reckless letter was riddled with factual errors, unsupported gossip, and falsehoods.” In the letter, Israel rebutted Hager’s claims regarding three additional Broward Sheriff deputies being on the high school campus at the time of the shooting and the number of visits Broward Sheriff’s Office made to Cruz’s home. Israel provided clarification about the self-assessment protocols the sheriff’s office and other law enforcement agencies undergo following critical incidents such as a mass shooting.
In a post on Twitter, the sheriff’s office also noted that the agency also has other active investigations in addition to the Stoneman Douglas shooting and that “Investigators will not be rushed or asked to jump to conclusions.”