Fort Lauderdale

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Suspends Broward Sheriff Scott Israel

The announcement comes days after Broward Sheriff Scott Israel reportedly told his staff that he "expects to be removed in the near future"

Surrounded by parents of victims of the Parkland school shooting, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Friday that he's suspending embattled Broward Sheriff Scott Israel over his handling of the massacre.

DeSantis made the announcement at a news conference outside BSO headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, where he was joined by Andrew Pollack, Max Schachter, Ryan Petty and other parents who have been critical of Israel in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

"The massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff's department," DeSantis said.

After issuing the executive order to suspend Israel, DeSantis said he was appointing Gregory Tony as the next Broward Sheriff. Tony is a former Coral Springs Police sergeant and the president of an active shooter response training company.

Tony will also be Broward County's first African-American sheriff.

"I am not here for any type of political, grandiose agenda. I'm here to serve," Tony said.

"Nothing, nothing, nothing will bring my kid or 16 others back, but there was failure everywhere you turned," said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting. "And after that failure, there was just a refusal to take accountability and responsibility. I wish him well but it was time for a change."

"Public safety is the most important thing and cultural corrections are necessary to protect the citizens before the next mass casualty event happens in Broward County," said Schachter, whose son, Alex, was killed.

The announcement comes days after Israel reportedly told his staff that he "expects to be removed in the near future" over the department's response of the Parkland shooting, a source told NBC 6.

Israel held his own news conference Friday, where he said he would fight the suspension.

"I intend to vigorously fight this unjustified suspension both in court and before the Florida Senate," Israel said. "There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the county honorably."

Israel called the suspension a "massive political power grab" by DeSantis. "This was about politics, not Parkland," Israel said.

Before DeSantis or Israel spoke, it was announced that five of Israel's top staff had resigned. Undersheriff Stephen Kinsey, Col. John Dale, Col. James Polan, Maj. Kevin Shults and Maj. Chadwick Wagner all submitted their resignations.

Kinsey noted he was resigning "due to the sheriff being suspended unjustly" in his resignation form.

Newly inaugurated DeSantis has previously said on his campaign trail that he would replace Israel. Under Florida law, the governor can suspend elected officials for criminal activity, misfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty.

The sheriff's lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, told NBC 6 in a statement Thursday night that Israel had not received official word from the governor or his office.

"Sheriff Israel intends on showing up for work tomorrow and attend to his sworn duties and responsibilities," Kaplan said. "Sheriff Israel is steadfast on ensuring the men and women of BSO have his full support."

The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School safety commission has heavily criticized Israel's active shooter policy, saying it contributed to the failure of some deputies to run into the building and confront the gunman during the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead.

Israel, 62, was elected sheriff in 2012 after a long career in law enforcement, ousting the Republican incumbent on his second attempt in the overwhelmingly Democratic county. After taking office, Israel, a Republican until changing parties shortly before running in 2008, received criticism over his friendship with notorious GOP operative Roger Stone, for promoting Stone's inexperienced stepson to detective and for accepting gifts from a wealthy benefactor.

However, community leaders praised his work with the homeless, minority and gay communities. Violent crime went down, and he easily won re-election in 2016 to oversee the county's 2,800 deputies.

Israel for years has called for tougher gun laws in Florida, a stance that created critics long before the school shooting.

Shortly after Israel's second term began, a man retrieved a handgun from his luggage at Fort Lauderdale's airport and opened fire, killing five. While Israel's deputies apprehended him within 72 seconds, the draft of a county report said Israel and others didn't control the chaos, leaving passengers huddled in fear for hours. He criticized the draft, and the final version was less harsh — but many of the same communications problems that plagued the airport response repeated at Stoneman Douglas.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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