Fabiola Santiago

Broward sheriff’s removal is more political act than justice for Parkland parents | Opinion

There is no question the Broward County Sheriff’s Office responded with cowardice and ineptness to the Parkland shooting.

But does the shameful performance of the department’s first-responding deputies merit the political removal of its elected sheriff, Scott Israel, a Democrat who became a vocal gun control advocate after the massacre?

The parents who lost children think so — and rightfully demanded accountability.

Three days after taking office, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ousted Israel, a decision upheld Monday by the Senate Rules Committee in a 9-7 vote divided along partisan lines. The vote followed an emotional 10-hour hearing marked by the moving testimony of parents and friends grieving their loss of loved ones.

The full GOP-dominated Senate votes Wednesday.

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Israel doesn’t stand a chance at being returned to his job for one major reason: Florida politics.

His removal was not the result of an investigation into his leadership but a political act, a DeSantis campaign promise kept, that sets a terrible constitutional precedent in Florida.

The voters elected Israel in 2012 and reelected him in 2016.

Israel wasn’t charged with or convicted of a crime.

His removal wasn’t fact-based.

There wasn’t enough evidence to prove Israel was derelict in his oversight of the police department, concluded the report of a “special master” (former GOP legislator Dudley Goodlette) hired to review DeSantis’ decision by Senate President Bill Galvano, another Republican.

Does the will of the Broward voters who elected Israel not count, not matter when the grief of parents and survivors is — and forever will be, no doubt — so raw?

Seventeen students and educators lost their lives and 17 more were injured on Valentine’s Day 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the hands of a disgruntled ex-student with a record of mental health issues — and armed with a weapon of war, an AR-15.

Pure evil was unleashed on innocents that day — and so many agencies failed the victims before the shooting, from the FBI, which didn’t follow through on tips about the shooter, to a Broward school system that failed to adequately intervene and follow-through on the well-known troubles of a young man with a cruel, violent streak.

Yet, the head of the FBI in Florida hasn’t lost his job, and Broward Schools Superintendent Robert Muncie survived an attempt to remove him. The BSO deputies who took cover instead of acting to protect lives have lost their jobs. Scot Peterson, the deputy in charge of protecting the school, is facing prosecution for his decision to take cover and avoid confrontation with the killer. Senator Lauren Book, in her vote to reinstate Israel, expressed concern that it could hinder Peterson’s prosecution to hold Israel accountable for the deaths.

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The Parkland parents have all the reasons in the world to be angry and to pursue justice for their children.

But if the feelings of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas community truly mattered, their pleas for an assault weapons ban in the state and other stricter gun safety measures would also be heard — and acted upon by the governor and lawmakers. But they weren’t even considered when the Florida Legislature approved lighter measures like increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 in the wake of the shooting.

Why? The Florida GOP toes the party line on just about every issue. There’s no room for any other analysis, nor contemplation — only strategic maneuvering when it comes to donors like the NRA.

Removing from office an elected Democrat in the most Democratic county in the state serves many purposes. It’s one more piece in the puzzle of party domination and a gesture to parents that doesn’t cost the GOP political capital.

Why else would Republicans react (after they got what they wanted) by asking for the heads of Broward Democratic senators on the committee who voted — as those who value the Constitution should have — against removing Israel from office? State senators Book, Oscar Braynon II, Gary Farmer and Perry Thurston voted to reinstate Israel.

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And, to be fair, I should say that these Democrats earned the wrath of Democratic parents like Fred Guttenberg, who wants gun control but is demanding bipartisanship on Israel’s ouster.

Ultimately, Parkland parents got what they wanted from the Senate committee — and I’m sure the full Senate will follow in line with the governor. It almost always does.

I’m glad for parents if it brings them a little solace or a sense that they’re making a difference for the good.

Institutions failed them at every level and every turn — and there should be consequences.

But in removing an elected official without evidence of dereliction of duty, Florida voters lost something we may never get back as well: the sanctity of election results.

Award-winning columnist Fabiola Santiago has been writing about all things Miami since 1980, when the Mariel boatlift became her first front-page story. A Cuban refugee child of the Freedom Flights, she’s also the author of essays, short fiction, and the novel “Reclaiming Paris.”
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