Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has accused a South Florida lawmaker calling for his ouster of “disingenuous political grandstanding,” and says he will not resign amid questions about whether his agency should have done more to stop teenager Nikolas Cruz from killing 17 at a Parkland high school.
Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, urged Gov. Rick Scott to remove Israel, an elected Democrat, from office due to “neglect of duty and incompetence.” In a letter sent Saturday to the governor, Hager cited Israel’s admission that a school resource officer was on campus at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Feb. 14 and waited outside the freshman building for four minutes as Cruz rampaged inside.
Hager also cited reports that three additional deputies were waiting outside the building when Coral Springs police arrived. And he noted that the Broward Sheriff’s Office had received 23 calls about Cruz over 10 years, some of which detailed possible plans to shoot up the school.
Jay Fant, a state representative running for attorney general, has also called on Israel to resign.
“An investigation by Sheriff Israel into the unfathomable inaction of these deputies will do nothing to bring back the 17 victims,” Hager wrote. “The Sheriff was fully aware of the threat this individual presented to his community and chose to ignore it.”
Hager urged the governor to take advantage of a state law that allows him to remove elected officials, although it’s unclear if and how that law would apply to this situation since it discusses officials accused of a crime committed while on the job. Israel has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Scott had not responded to Hager early Saturday evening. It’s unclear if he contacted either Hager or Israel by Sunday afternoon, but the governor has called for a “complete investigation’ of the police response to be made public.
But Israel responded.
Late Saturday, the Broward Sheriff’s Office released a rebuttal in which Israel said Hager’s letter was “reckless” and “riddled with factual errors.” Israel said Hager was spreading “unsupported gossip and falsehoods.”
“I am very proud of the incredible work that so many from BSO and other agencies,” Israel wrote to the governor, mentioning Coral Springs police and other departments that responded. “And I am equally appalled that Rep. Hager felt a need to engage in disingenuous political grandstanding, perhaps in the hope he will garner some headlines, at the expense of the truth. I would urge Rep. Hager to publicly apologize for helping to spreading this false gossip and misinformation.”
Israel said Hager incorrectly asserted that in addition to the school resource officer who failed to act, three additional sheriff’s deputies were at the school during the shooting. He said Hager wrongly stated that BSO had made 39 visits to Cruz’s residences. And he said Hager miscast an internal review of the sheriff’s office’s response to a January 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport.
In an interview Sunday on CNN, Israel defended his handling of the response to the Parkland shooting, and brushed aside Hager’s letter to the governor.
“Of course I won’t resign,” he said.