FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Friday over his handling of February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, saying he “repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership.”
The Republican governor flew to Fort Lauderdale three days after taking office to remove the Democratic sheriff, appointing a former police sergeant to serve as acting sheriff. Gregory Tony, 40, worked for Coral Springs police for 12 years before leaving in 2016 to start a company specializing in active-shooter training. He is the first African-American to serve as Broward’s sheriff.
DeSantis said during a news conference outside the sheriff’s office headquarters that Israel failed to keep families and children safe before and during the Feb. 14 shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead inside the three-story freshman building.
“The neglect of duty and incompetence that was connected to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been well documented, and I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis said. “Suffice it to say, the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
During the shooting, then-Broward Deputy Scot Peterson, who was assigned to the school, drew his gun but took cover instead of charging inside. Seven other deputies who arrived within minutes also failed to enter, even as officers from neighboring Coral Springs went into the building.
Israel earlier changed the office’s policy from saying deputies “shall” confront active shooters to “may.” He said he didn’t want to deputies to undertake suicide missions. Deputies received two calls about suspect Nikolas Cruz in the months before the massacre saying he had amassed an arsenal and was a potential school shooter, but took no action.
Minutes after DeSantis’ announcement, Israel said he “wholeheartedly” rejected the governor’s order and would fight it in court, arguing that DeSantis was making a “power grab” against the will of the county’s people who elected him. He said DeSantis was acting on behalf of the National Rifle Association, which quickly blamed the sheriff’s office after the shooting.