Since Broward Sheriff Scott Israel was suspended last month by the governor for his agency’s response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting, most of his command staff has either been forced out, resigned or been demoted.
Yet this much is clear: Newly appointed Sheriff Gregory Tony is not done with his housecleaning.
The latest to depart is BSO Capt. Ira Goldberg, a tough-talking former Broward corrections officer who was criticized for an anti-gay Facebook post he made last year. It was directed at the leader of the Broward County Log Cabin Republicans, an organization that works within the GOP in support of LGBT rights.
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In May, Goldberg suspected that Log Cabin Republican Gilberto Montalvo hired protestors to face off against Israel at a political event. In a Facebook comment directed at Montalvo, Goldberg wrote, “I hope you offered them money instead of sexual favors. Those men deserve better.”
Criticized at the time, Goldberg said he had no intention of taking down the post and invited Montalvo to complain to the news media, which he did. A BSO internal affairs investigation criticized Goldberg, finding he had violated the department’s social media policy. He was docked one day’s pay, according police records.
Goldberg couldn’t be reached this week. Asked about his departure, lead BSO public information officer Veda Coleman-Wright forwarded a termination form showing Goldberg had left on his own accord on Tuesday.
The clash with Montalvo was first reported by Bob Norman on WPLG Channel 10. Montalvo told the television station that Israel and Goldberg were good friends.
Also set to be removed from their posts on Friday, according to a memo obtained by the Miami Herald, are seven members of a civilian community outreach group created by Israel, each of whom had take-home vehicles. Some are expected to get other positions with the county; others may be let go.
The outreach body was formed to be the eyes and ears of BSO at events like homeowner functions or town halls. But, according Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputy Association, it morphed into the political realm, often showing up at fund-raising events to promote Israel.
Set to be removed as community outreach liaisons are Michael Albetta, Lorraine Aza, Charles Gilbert, Stephen Greenberger, Patrick Jabouin, Lynn Reich and Lorraine Smith. Their total combined compensation for 2017 according to Broward County records is $392,251.
“It’s a political arm of the sheriff’s office at the expense of the taxpayers,” Bell said.
Tony on Friday said the changes were intended to strengthen the sheriff’s office and make it more responsive to all of Broward.
“With any new administration there comes changes,” he said. “Command personnel must conduct a comprehensive overview of agency operations and make the necessary changes to ensure the effective and efficient functioning of the agency.”
The political fallout at BSO since former student and school shooter Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and staff and wounded 17 others on Valentine’s Day 2018, has been extensive.
On Jan. 11, DeSantis suspended Israel, calling the sheriff negligent and incompetent and claiming he “egregiously” failed in training his deputies for responding to the attack on Stoneman Douglas. Deputies took cover behind their cars rather than enter the freshman building to confront the shooter, which has become the standard response to an active school shooter situation.
Reached Friday, Israel said as Broward’s sheriff he was devastated at what happened in Parkland and that he is fully responsible for the actions of his officers. But he wasn’t willing to take the blame for the students and teachers who were killed or injured.
“Like any good sheriff, I’m responsible for anything that goes on in BSO, good or bad,” said Israel. “But no one, not you, not me, is responsible for the deaths of these 17 people and 17 others shot, but this evil, evil person.”
After DeSantis stepped in, more dominoes fell immediately, with five command staffers resigning the day Israel was removed.
Gone were Undersheriff Steve Kinsey, Maj. Kevin Shults and colonels Jack Dale, Jim Polan and Chadwick Wagner. Israel had recruited four of the five from his days with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department.
Also out since Israel’s departure are Lt. Col. Tom Harrington and colonels Col. Frank Adderly and Jonathan Appel. The three also joined Israel from Fort Lauderale. Adderly was the former police chief there.
In addition to the officers who left, Tony dismissed three civilians on Israel’s staff. Let go were Chief of Staff Lisa Castillo, Community Affairs Manager Wallace Eccelston and administrative assistant Kimberly Andor.
Israel has been raising money to fight for his job before the state Senate, which has the power to reinstate him but is unlikely to do so. He said if the Senate or the courts don’t restore him to office, he has every intention of running for the sheriff’s post in 2020. He said the governor’s decision to suspend him was nothing more than keeping a campaign promise.
“I don’t know what the Senate or state or the federal court will do. I can’t see into the future,” said Israel. “But I’ve done absolutely nothing to warrant a suspension. And whether I get reinstated or not, I will run again.”
The statement didn’t sit well with Israel’s critics, among them the Parkland parents who lost children, and Bell, the union chief.
Bell, who was on the governor’s transition to team for public safety, said Israel had lost the confidence of many of his subordinates before he was removed from office.
“For the betterment of the agency and the community, yes, it’s better to be rid of him,” Bell said. “It was awkward. Nobody had faith in the colonels he had in those positions. But Parkland was the main reason, especially when we looked into it and found that officers had not been doing the training Israel said they had.”