The buzz in Broward County is, Sheriff Scott Israel knows his removal might well be new Gov. Ron DeSantis' next priority.
Israel, much maligned for failures in his department surrounding the February 14 shooting spree at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 dead and 17 wounded, has notified many within his department that he anticipates being suspended in short order.
In his inaugural address, Gov. Ron DeSantis alluded to suspending constitutional officers for incompetence.
It appears notice has been sent out that the incoming governor will be eager to bring accountability to the Broward Sheriff's Office, considering the numerous issues reported in past months. DeSantis is wasting no time in starting his new job by fulfilling promises. On Wednesday, within 24 hours of his inauguration, he made his first of three Supreme Court selections, Barbara Lagoa of Miami. Hints are that more work is to follow this week, and Israel’s future may be part of it.
We are closing in on the one-year anniversary of the Parkland massacre that played out at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There are a number of questions that linger, a number of issues families and residents of the region remain concerned about. One at the top of the list: How does Scott Israel still retain his job as sheriff of Broward County?
During his inaugural speech, DeSantis hinted at taking direct action on a local level regarding those in office who are deemed a problem. “If a local official is neglectful of required duties, I will remove the official,” he said from the podium on the steps of the Old Capitol. Many, especially those in Broward County, had a sense Israel was being referenced.
During a pre-inaugural event on Monday, DeSantis was asked directly about Israel’s future. He answered indirectly, but sounded firm that his decision was made.
“As you look at different folks who have been mentioned as people who could potentially be suspended, the goal is not to be like, ‘oh this person is politically different’. If you are going to do it, get somebody in there who is going to do a good job.”
If the sheriff has in fact been notifying his command staff of an impending suspension, it sounds as if the new administration has sent advance word.
Israel had seen his notoriety take a sharp spike in the wake of the shooting, followed by a public relations plunge as more information about his department - and himself - came to light in the ensuing months. The performance of his deputies that day had been sharply criticized, and his program, in conjunction with the Broward Schools superintendent, of curtailing arrests of truant students, seems to have led to a permissive atmosphere within the school system.
Even as these problems were being highlighted, and focus was placed of the Department, things did not improve. As increased security was brought out to MSDHS, it was found that deputies on site were caught sleeping, and that the shooter’s brother had found his way onto the campus numerous times during their watch.
It got so bad that Governor Rick Scott felt compelled to install Florida Highway patrolmen on sight, just to quell the fears of students and parents.
Things devolved for Israel so much that barely a month after the shooting it was discovered that a PR company had been hired to help salvage the sheriff’s standing. In late March, rather than working to fix problems in his department, they instead hoped to repair Israel’s public image, with a crisis-management firm.
As recently as this past November, still more troubling details emerged. During the State Commission, investigating the shooting and the details of the law enforcement activity that day, Israel gave some problematic testimony.
“I don’t have any reason to believe any members of our agency knew there was an active shooter,” he told the Commission. Additionally, in referencing the actions of embattled deputy Scott Peterson, Israel stated his deputy “never got on the radio and advised this agency there was an active shooter.” The official police reports indicate they did know of the shooter, and the police radio transcripts showed that Peterson did in fact voice that the shooter was inside the building.
While Sheriff Israel may regard an impending suspension as a punishment, for many residents it will be regarded as long-in-coming relief.
Brad Slager, a Fort Lauderdale freelance writer, wrote this story exclusively for Sunshine State News. He writes on politics and the entertainment industry and his stories appear in such publications as RedState and The Federalist.