Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspends BSO sheriff Scott Israel, and replaces him with Gregory Tony
Florida’s highest court ruled Tuesday that Gov. Ron DeSantis acted lawfully when he suspended former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel over his department’s handling of two mass shootings during his tenure: in Parkland and at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
The decision means that Israel’s suspension can now move forward to the Republican-majority Senate, which will decide if his decision stands.
Israel, 62, who has said he plans on running again for the post in 2020, said he still intends to fight.
“Sheriff Israel fully intends to challenge his suspension in the Florida Senate, where a thorough review of the facts will prove that he worked diligently to protect and safeguard the citizens of Broward, consistent with his election as Sheriff,” his attorney, Benedict Kuehne, said in a statement. “He looks forward to continuing to serve the public as Sheriff.”
DeSantis, who blamed Israel for a chaotic response to the mass shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year and at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017, which left five people dead, removed Israel from office in January and appointed former Coral Springs police sergeant Gregory Tony as sheriff.
Florida’s constitution allows the governor to suspend a sheriff for neglect of duty or incompetence. When making the announcement of the suspension, DeSantis cited both when it came to Israel’s response to the Parkland shooting that left 17 students and staff members dead.
“Today’s Florida Supreme Court opinion leaves no doubt of my authority as Governor to suspend a government official for neglect of duty and incompetence,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Scott Israel failed in his duties to protect the families and students of Broward County and the time for delay tactics is at an end. I look forward to the Florida Senate resuming the process of formal removal.”
DeSantis, a Republican, hopes the decision comes before the Florida Legislature’s adjournment on May 3.
In March, Israel, a Democrat, who was first elected Broward sheriff in 2012 and re-elected by a wide margin in 2016, filed a lawsuit challenging whether DeSantis had the authority to suspend him. He called the decision a political “power grab” and said it voided the will of the voters. His attorneys said at the time that the governor had not specified any statutory or official duty that Israel neglected or performed incompetently.
On April 4, Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes ruled that DeSantis had the constitutional authority to suspend him. The judge did not comment on the merits of the actual suspension.
The next day, Israel’s attorneys filed an appeal. In Tuesday’s decision, Florida’s Supreme Court said it is not the court’s role to decide, only the Senate’s.
“Sheriff Scott Israel is disappointed with the Florida Supreme Court’s rejection of his court challenge to the Governor’s suspension,” Kuehne said in the statement. “Acknowledging the Florida Supreme Court’s broad approval of the Governor’s suspension authority, Sheriff Israel remains confident he engaged in no neglect of duty in discharging his duties as Broward Sheriff.”
Kuehne says the decision could mean more suspensions in the future.
“With today’s ruling, local elected officials now need to be aware of the potential for Governor overreach when discharging their duties,” he said. “Political considerations that were never before a basis for suspension may now be a constitutional reality in Florida.”