Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspends BSO sheriff Scott Israel, and replaces him with Gregory Tony
Since his ouster more than two weeks ago, which he called a political “power grab,” suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has been adamant that he would challenge Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to remove him from office.
He and his legal team took their first official step on Tuesday, notifying the Florida Senate of Israel’s formal request for an evidentiary hearing before an appointed special master to challenge the Jan. 11 suspension. Apart from his appeal before the Republican-majority Senate, which will ultimately vote on the merits of the suspension, Israel is also considering a legal challenge.
He is raising money through a recently formed legal defense fund.
“This invocation of the right to a hearing is not intended to waive or limit Sheriff Israel’s available legal remedies to challenge the unlawful exercise of the Governor’s suspension powers,” the request states.
Israel, 62, a two-term Democratic sheriff, has been the subject of intense criticism for his department’s response to the Feb. 14 Parkland school shooting, in which 17 students and faculty members were killed and another 17 injured.
After boasting of his “amazing” leadership during an interview on CNN less than two weeks after the massacre, news reports later revealed that some deputies who responded to the shooting did not immediately enter the school and others took cover behind their vehicles. Three deputies who failed to confront the shooter were placed on restrictive duty, and two others — including the school resource officer — have since retired.
A state-appointed investigative committee found that a policy modification made by Israel, which changed a BSO instruction for confronting active shooters from mandatory to the optional “may,” could have contributed to the department’s response. He later changed the policy back, stipulating that deputies “shall’’ confront the shooter.
As a candidate, the Republican DeSantis had said he would likely suspend Israel. Three days into his governorship, he did just that, replacing Israel with former Coral Springs police Sgt. Gregory Tony, the department’s first black sheriff. Coral Springs police were praised for their quick response to the Parkland shooting; they ran past BSO deputies on their way to the shooting.
Israel has contended that, while mistakes were made during BSO’s response, he served the county honorably. Broward voters should choose their sheriff, which is an elected position, he argued.
“Sadly, this is not about what occurred on Feb. 14 ,’’ he said at a Jan. 11 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.’’
One of Israel’s attorneys, Stuart Kaplan, said they are investigating whether DeSantis could legally remove Israel despite not being the governor during the Parkland shooting.
“We are investigating whether the Legislature intent under Part V, Section 112 FL. Statute was enacted to allow a newly elected Governor to utilize this as a means to remove an elected official when...the Governor was not in office at the time of the alleged misconduct,” Kaplan wrote in a statement.
Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, confirmed receipt of Israel’s request, and stated that former Florida Rep. Dudley Goodlette would serve as special master. Goodlette is a former Republican lawmaker from Naples.
The Senate will make “all possible efforts” to vote on the case by the end of the 2019 session, Galvano stated in a memo to senators issued earlier this month. Goodlette will also hear the case for suspended Okaloosa County Superintendent of Schools Mary Beth Jackson.
“The Senate has received Sheriff Israel’s request for a hearing, and will proceed accordingly,” Galvano said in a statement. “It remains my intention to appoint former Representative Goodlette as special master.”
In Israel’s letter to the Senate, his attorneys take issue with Galvano’s appointment of Goodlette as special master.
“While Sheriff Israel respects the state intention of the Senate President to appoint a former legislator to serve as special magistrate,” the letter reads, “we believe the interests of justice and considerations of neutrality are best served through the appointment of a person with judicial and administrative experience but without substantial involvement in partisan political matters.”