Embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, suspended from elected office in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis for the department’s response to a pair of mass shootings, filed a lawsuit Thursday arguing that the governor had no basis to remove him and asking the court to reinsert him immediately to the most powerful elected post in the county.
The 36-page petition for reinstatement filed in Broward County Circuit Court argues that the newly elected governor exceeded his constitutional authority and was merely following through on a campaign promise when he removed Israel from office on Jan. 11, only three days after the governor was sworn in.
Israel’s lawsuit challenges DeSantis’ claim that Israel was responsible for failing to protect the victims during a shooting spree at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017 that ended five lives and during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attack in February 2018 in which 17 students and staff were killed and another 17 were injured.
The lawsuit claims that both shooters were apprehended by law enforcement and that the Fort Lauderdale shooter was captured within 85 seconds.
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Israel, 62, who has said he has every intention of running for the Broward sheriff’s post during the next election cycle if the state Senate doesn’t return him to office in April, gave a peek into what that campaign may look like Thursday when he took a swipe at his successor while commenting on the lawsuit.
“As I’ve said all along, it was purely political. [Gov.] Scott never suspended me because there was no reason to suspend me,” Israel said. “A guy who had six or seven subordinates in Coral Springs now has 6,000 and the only thing we know about him is that he works out at the gym. The governor snubbed his nose at Broward County voters saying your vote doesn’t count.”
News of Israel’s lawsuit didn’t sit well with Fred Guttenberg, who lost his 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.
“He failed. It’s that simple,” Guttenberg said. “He failed with regards to what he should have known and with the police officers assigned to Parkland. He failed afterwards when he knew the facts of the day and went on and said he supplied great leadership. And my daughter and 16 others are dead because of it. This [the lawsuit] is more about his job than what happened.”
Israel, a native New Yorker, was elected to oversee BSO’s 5,600 sworn and civilian personnel in 2012 after spending decades in the Fort Lauderdale Police Department and after a stint as police chief in North Bay Village.
He was removed from office by DeSantis shortly after a blistering report by a panel that was created to investigate the response to the school rampage by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. The report found that several Broward County deputies failed to try and stop the massacre, or were slow, ill-trained and unprepared.
During a news conference on the steps of Broward’s public safety building in Fort Lauderdale in January, DeSantis said overwhelming failures of leadership led to egregious breakdowns that may have contributed to the deaths.
In his suspension order, DeSantis said the shooter, now 20, made several threats of violence before the shooting, at least two of which were reported to BSO but were not adequately investigated or acted on.
That same day the governor named former Coral Springs Sgt. Gregory Tony to replace Israel. Tony, 40 and a native of Philadelphia, has said he has every intention of running for Broward sheriff during the next election.
Tony is the president of Blue Spear Solutions, a security company that specializes in active shooter and mass casualty training. Tony, who has a criminal justice degree, joined the Coral Springs Police Department in 2005. He served as a SWAT member for five years before being promoted to sergeant in 2014. He began his company the following year and retired in 2016.
Israel’s lawsuit cites how DeSantis made removing the sheriff a political campaign promise well before the election and how he “warned” Florida legislators in a speech earlier this week not to interfere with the suspension.
“Because the governor’s suspension order was made for blatantly political and partisan reasons, as shown by the governor’s comments during the State of the State speech, it is apparent there is no constitutional basis for Sheriff Israel’s suspension,” said his attorney, Ben Kuehne. “The voters of Broward County are entitled to decide who their sheriff is by election. The voters have spoken overwhelmingly in Sheriff Israel’s favor.”