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Sheriff Scott Israel Vows Not to Go Quietly

January 14, 2019 - 6:00am
Scott Israel at his press conference
Scott Israel at his press conference

Disgruntled former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel wasted no time in retaliating after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed and replaced him last week. The controversial now-former chief was vowing to fight back the same day DeSantis made his announcement.

Applause and groans have been the norm in Broward County, where Israel's suspension and replacement with Gregory Tony, a former lawman and crisis response expert, are still the talk of the town.

Immediately following the DeSantis announcement, Israel -- with his lawyer -- staged his own event for the media. After thanking many who have supported him, the sheriff offered his defense, showing an unwillingness to become a political pariah. Reading from a prepared statement, he gave his stern position on why he should not have been removed, and how he will fight to retain his post. (See a video of Israel's press conference on this page.)

“I wholeheartedly reject the statements in the governor’s executive order -- as lacking both legal merit and a valid factual basis," he said. "There was no wrongdoing on my part.” He then noted his plight would become heard in a court of law, alluding to “false narratives,” and declaring he would “vigorously” fight against his dismissal in court and in the Florida Senate.

In a very odd comment, Israel claimed this decision “was not about what occurred on February 14” (the date of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting that took the lives of 14 students and three adults). His position was that DeSantis “merely fulfilled a campaign promise. ... This was about politics, not about Parkland,” he said.

Then, in a desperate attempt at pure deflection, the sheriff invoked the National Rifle Association, claiming the NRA “controls the governor’s actions”. He also made the statement this is a “massive political power grab by the governor,” but he did not detail exactly what it entails.

There is so much to unravel in Israel's statements made Friday afternoon. While it is not at all surprising that a political figure would fight for his job, it is with a mixture of bemusement and amusement to see Scott Israel show how divorced from the facts he is in order to try salvaging his career. 

To say his ouster has nothing at all to do with the events in Parkland last February is the nadir of delusional thinking. He is under fire specifically and entirely due to those events. His agency was shown to have failed on that fateful day. Deputies failed to act in appropriate fashion before the shooting to address a problem youth who had multiple confrontations and involvement with his office. They even failed in the aftermath, when it was discovered his deputies guarding the school were sleeping on duty and allowed the shooter’s brother to trespass at MSDHS several times.

While Israel sounded bold in saying he “wholeheartedly rejects the statements in the governor’s executive order,” his legal counsel exposed his sternness as a farce. His lawyer, Steven Caplan, came to the podium to take questions and he was asked directly about the governor’s executive order. Caplan then made the admission that they had yet to see it. 

So Israel and Caplan claim there is no legal merit or factual basis in a document neither of them has read.

Even the claim that this was a “political grab” arrives with zero substance. What exactly is DeSantis supposedly accomplishing politically? The vacancy of this claim is seen when you understand DeSantis is removing a Republican sheriff, and his replacement is actually a registered Democrat.

Even that convenient tagline (“This was about politics, not about Parkland”) ignores a cold fact: the press conference announcing the suspension was attended by many parents from Parkland. Before speaking himself, the governor gave his podium over to a number of Parkland parents, allowing them to describe how they felt about replacing Israel and to give them a chance to talk about Gregory Tony as someone charged with reinstilling safety and accountability in their schools and the community.

Israel also tried to save his standing by alluding to the will of the voters, who strongly backed him for reelection in 2016. He conveniently failed to mention another vote that took place: In April, weeks after the shooting, his own deputies' union returned a vote of “no confidence” on Israel. The result was 85 percent voting against their boss.

Israel's response after the massacre surprised a lot of people. During a November meeting of the state commission looking into events surrounding the shooting, Israel was stern in the face of conflicting evidence. He testified that his department had no knowledge of an active shooter, and that the deputy who was a focus of the failings that day -- Scott Peterson -- never advised the agency he knew where the shooter was. Police reports show they both knew. Transcripts of radio logs that day have Peterson stating the shooter was inside the building.

This testimony alone would almost seem enough to warrant Israel’s removal. The lengthy list of of other issues witnessed and reported in the wake of the MSDHS shooting show Israel will have a very difficult task in clearing his name. The known facts do not lead to questioning if he should have been removed; they have many asking, "Why did it take this long?"

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.

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