Jan 11, 2019, 6:22 PM ET

Embattled Florida sheriff suspended over handling of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

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Florida's new governor Ron DeSantis has suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel over his department's much-maligned response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting last February — which took the lives of 17 students and staff — and installed the county's first African-American sheriff, former Coral Springs police sergeant Gregory Tony, according to official statements.

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On Friday evening, three days after being sworn in, DeSantis issued a tweet saying that "effective immediately, I am officially suspending Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his repeated failures, incompetence and neglect of duty." The tweet linked to an executive order signed by the newly-minted governor.

Israel reacted shortly after the governor's announcement, holding a press conference in which he defended his tenure and contended that he was a victim of local politics.

"There was no wrongdoing on my part," Israel said at the press conference. "I served the county honorably."

Israel said he plans to "vigorously fight this unjustified suspension" and intends to return to office soon.

"This was about politics, not about Parkland," Israel said.

Among a raft of criticism, DeSantis' executive order noted that Broward County Sheriff's Department personnel had 21 interactions with the school shooter prior to the massacre, the first one coming in February 2016 — two years before the attack — when the shooter "posted a picture of a gun with a statement similar to, 'I am going to get this gun when I turn 18 and shoot up school.'"

[E]ffective immediately, I am officially suspending Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his repeated failures, incompetence and neglect of duty.

Israel has been the subject of extraordinary criticism in the wake of the massacre on Valentine's Day 2018.

PHOTO: Broward Sheriff Scott Israel makes a point to NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch during a CNN town hall meeting, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.Michael Laughlin/Zuma Press
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel makes a point to NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch during a CNN town hall meeting, Feb. 21, 2018, at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Last spring, about two months after the shooting spree, 534 out of 628 deputies issued a 'no confidence' vote in his leadership compared to 94 who voted in confidence of the sheriff, Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association, told ABC News at the time.

"I will not be distracted from my duties by this inconsequential ... union vote, which was designed to extort a 6.5 percent pay raise from this agency," Israel responded, in part, to the union vote.

Last month, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission issued a scathing report about the Broward County Sheriff's Department, specifying that one of Israel's key active shooter policies may have contributed to the carnage.

PHOTO: Acting sheriff Gregory Tony, right, speaks at the Broward County Sheriffs Office Fort Lauderdale headquarters, Jan. 11, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.Wilfredo Lee/AP
Acting sheriff Gregory Tony, right, speaks at the Broward County Sheriff's Office Fort Lauderdale headquarters, Jan. 11, 2019, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

The commission noted that a written policy saying that Broward County deputies “may” confront active shooters, rather than “shall,” provided an excuse for not entering the school to confront the shooter.

This was about politics, not about Parkland.

In response, Israel told the commission that he didn't want deputies entering into "suicide missions," according to the Associated Press.

Israel, whose elected term ends in 2020, has said he would not leave office voluntarily.

Responding to the commission report last month, Israel said that all Broward sheriff's deputies completed an additional eight hours of active-shooter training, that the department has created a threat assessment unit and that it has enacted other reforms.

When asked by CNN days after the shooting whether he would have done anything differently, Israel famously replied, "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.”

Tony, 40, of Boca Raton, spent 12 years at the Coral Springs Police Department, where he served in a variety of roles, including five years on department’s SWAT team, as well as positions in narcotics investigation, street intelligence and burglary investigation, according to the Sun Sentinel newspaper.

Tony left the department in 2016 to focus full time on a business he started, called Blue Spear Solutions, which provides threat assessments to schools and other businesses, and provides training to prepare for active-shooter and mass casualty incidents, according to the newspaper.

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  • Mic123

    It's about time there was some accountability. When are they going to address the failures at the school?

    Really wish David Hogg and the other bloomberg supported "protesters" would have yelled at least a little about the failures of the cops and the school.

  • srichey321

    17 young people murdered in a school shooting under his watch. I'm surprised he didn't resign right after it happened. I'm sure there is some nuance and complexity to consider, but the bottom line is that it was under his watch.

  • TexasVulcan

    Sorry, but a failure of this magnitude demands a "sacrificial lamb" regardless of personal blame.

    Someone needs to tell the Sheriff, "Sorry, the buck stops with you."

  • wiseone

    I 'm retired from a k-12 school system. I worked closely with the resource officer. Every visitor passed by this officer when entering the school. I know we had an officer who would not retreat from an active shooter like the officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. Sheriff Israel had problems with his officers confronting shooters. Therefore he was properly released of his duties by the Governor.

  • Littlethugtrump

    It makes me very insecure when I see Florida LEO actively participate in political leanings.

  • Arryandan

    21 interactions with the shooter, AND he posted pictures of the gun with a statement that when he was 18 he's shoot up the school. And the Sheriff thought the guy was trustworthy....? Eh? No wonder there was an 85% no confidence vote.

  • The Terminator

    Some of this story is new to me

    At the time I questioned his leadership.

    The big one then was two of his officers took phone calls from students/parents that Cruz talked openly about wanting to shoot up a school. The two officers didn't do or say anything. The two officers were suspended days after the shooting.

    My opinion, he put a resource officer in the school that my opinion was no good on the street. No other cop would trust him to have their back. So they gave him a cake job until the shooting started and he ran away. Just as he would have done with his partner if he was on the street.

    Parkland had the attitude, "It won't happen here."

    Things in this story don't match what was in previous stories.

    This story says 21 interactions. Past stories said 39.

    The photo with him holding the gun. I was not aware it came with a caption. However, it was my understanding it was sent by a tipster to the I believe the FBI Kansas City Office and the agent there failed to forward it to the Miami office. He sat on it.

    I don't know the Florida gun laws. What little I know they only look at convictions. The 3 day waiting period.

    The 21 or 39 encounters with no arrests wouldn't be considered for gun ownership. Which leads to the question, why was he not arrested?

    I believe Parkland could have been prevented if Parkland didn't take the attitude, "It won't happen here."

    --

    Here after Parkland the police were falling over themselves making arrests for threatening to shoot up a school. I would say 20 to 30 arrests in the two months following Parkland to show they weren't going to ignore threats.

    --

    Part of the problem may be police react to crime, not prevent crime.

    .

  • Littlethugtrump

    I find the political intervention in law enforcement AND education in Florida absolutely appalling. Such agencies should be free of politics.

  • End of Life Ritual

    I remember him on TV getting extremely defensive over what I thought were simple questions. I knew there was something wrong right then.

  • Jim J.

    Good decision to unload Israel and several of the deputies who shirked their duty. Not a high moment for the police industry.

  • c0reDump

    Didn't realize a Governor could just fire an elected official like that. I guess we are testing US & State Constitutions in this new age.

  • Furrmin The Cat

    Israel famously replied, "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.”

    Fool! OJ is still in the record books. He ranks #21 in all time yards gained rushing. He will never be taken out of the NFL record books. After all they are the records from the NFL and he was in the NFL.

  • Jan515

    It is about time sheriff Israel gets the boot for his incompetence. It is shocking that the sheriff's department officers had such poor training for an active shooter situation. Since Columbine in the late 80's police should be trained to enter a building immediately during an active shooter situation. I feel so sorry for the family and friends of the victims.

  • wdj

    "534 out of 628 deputies issued a 'no confidence' vote in his leadership compared to 94 who voted in confidence of the sheriff"
    When 85% of your employees have no confidence in your ability to lead, maybe it's time to look in a mirror and re-evaluate things.