Broward County

Broward Sheriff’s supporters hire crisis management firm after Parkland shooting

Scott Israel
Scott Israel South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Under intense scrutiny over last month’s high school shooting in Parkland, Broward County’s elected sheriff is getting by with a little help from his friends.

Scott Israel’s supporters last week hired crisis management firm Mercury to help Broward County’s top cop deal with the mountain of political and media pressure facing his agency. Israel’s backers are paying the firm through a “dark money” 501(c)4 non-profit they created last week, called People for a Safe Broward.

While it’s unclear exactly who is behind the effort and how much money is involved, Jennifer Blohm, an attorney representing the organization, confirmed Thursday that “People for a Safe Broward retained a public relations firm to assist the organization in its support of law enforcement in Broward county.” Corporate filings show that the non-profit was incorporated by Amy Rose, a political operative who managed Israel’s 2016 reelection campaign.

The organization’s by-laws state that its aim is to “promote support for law enforcement,” “disseminate data and public opinion research needed to assist in the development and advancement of legislative priorities,” and register as a political committee.

The group was incorporated March 16, but by then Mercury had already started helping the oft-bombastic Israel cope with an unprecedented amount of attention. The prominent public relations firm came on some time after Israel announced that a deputy assigned to the school had failed to try and stop the shooting, and then days later gave a widely panned CNN interview in which he touted his “amazing leadership.”

This week, Israel, who lived for years in Parkland and whose children attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, announced that a deputy assigned to help police the school in the wake of the shooting was found sleeping on campus in a BSO cruiser.

The sheriff, who is dealing with several outside reviews of his agency’s response to the shooting and calls by Florida Republicans for his ouster, has also deflected questions about why some deputies waited several minutes to storm the building where Nikolas Cruz killed 14 students and three faculty members, and whether more should have been done to respond to tips that suggested Cruz was heavily armed and violent. His agency has at times pushed back against the scrutiny.

The Broward Sheriff's Office released surveillance video from outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during and after the shooting by Nikolas Cruz that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.

“We’re here as a resource to be utilized,” said Michael Hernandez, who as Mercury’s senior vice president has been involved in the effort. Hernandez said the firm has been available “any time that there’s an opportunity to clarify information that has unfortunately been circulating that’s inaccurate.”

Asked to comment on his relationship with the organization, Israel, who has been mostly quiet since his disastrous CNN interview, issued a statement saying “our community has come together.”

“I am grateful for the counsel that many have provided and I will continue to welcome the support of organizations like People for a Safe Broward,” he said. “We all share the same goal, which is to protect our community.”