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Sheriff Scott Israel removed over failures during Parkland shooting

Tribune News Service logo Tribune News Service 1/11/2019 By Anthony Man, Lisa J. Huriash, Linda Trischitta and Brittany Wallman, Sun Sentinel
a close up of a man: Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting on Nov. 15, 2018, in Sunrise, Fla. Israel told his otop commanders that he will be removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis. © Mike Stocker/Sun Sentinel/TNS Sheriff Scott Israel speaks at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission meeting on Nov. 15, 2018, in Sunrise, Fla. Israel told his otop commanders that he will be removed from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office Friday, replacing him after 10 months of turmoil spawned by the slaughter of 17 staff and students in Parkland.

The governor replaced Israel with former Coral Springs Police Sgt. Gregory Tony, 40, who has a background in active-shooter training and becomes the first black sheriff in Broward County's history.

DeSantis announced the suspension from the Broward Sheriff's Office headquarters, while the displaced former sheriff prepared a response from a black church in northwest Fort Lauderdale.

The suspension caps a nearly yearlong series of revelations that exposed the failure of Broward sheriff's deputies to run in to save children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Some deputies said they couldn't remember when they'd last been trained to handle an active shooter, even though the agency had a confused, chaotic response to a mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017.

Israel's leadership of the agency has come under intense scrutiny, and he's received extensive criticism over the massacre in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded on Valentine's Day.

Unprepared and overwhelmed: Detailed timeline shows 58 minutes of chaos in Parkland 5/8 Investigation

Though he enjoyed strong popularity in Broward before the shooting, Israel's star fell in the aftermath, particularly after a disastrous appearance on CNN in which he praised his own leadership and glossed over his agency's mistakes.

Many family members of victims and people in Parkland, where the school is located, blame Israel for the agency's handling of the teenage killer during interactions before the shooting, and for the way it handled the situation on the day of the massacre.

The Florida Constitution gives the governor power to suspend public officials for "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty." Governors routinely remove public officials who are arrested or charged with crimes, but it is unusual to remove an officeholder who does not face criminal charges.

It was the second removal of a countywide elected official in Broward in two months. Former Gov. Rick Scott suspended elections supervisor Dr. Brenda Snipes at the end of November. Snipes had already submitted a letter of resignation.

Among those present at the sheriff's headquarters were state Rep. Chip LaMarca, R- Lighthouse Point.

"It's important that I am here to support the decision," LaMarca said.

Israel is expected to respond to the suspension later Friday from a news conference at the New Mount Olive Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, one of the city's oldest black churches.

Broward Sheriff's Sgt. Anthony Marciano, president of the Federation of Public Employees union, representing detention deputies, courtroom deputies and others, said Israel made some missteps: He spoke publicly too soon, when investigations were still going on; he didn't take responsibility; and he unnecessarily "poked a big bear that he didn't need to poke" when he addressed the National Rifle Association, Marciano said.

But Marciano said Israel's fate would have better been left to voters.

"I listened to all the MSD commission meetings, and the sheriff said one thing that should have resonated everybody: 'You can't teach courage to people,'" Marciano said.

Rod Skirvin, president of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, which is attempting to regain representation of deputies, said the public's confidence in Israel was shaken.

"I think sometimes situations dictate that change has to be made just to give things a fresh face and new beginnings," Skirvin said.

Jeff Bell, head of the deputies' International Union of Police Associations and a member of DeSantis' transition team, had a more harsh assessment.

"He has turned this agency, the largest fully accredited sheriff's office in the country, into a political machine for his own well-being," Bell said. "He's incompetent and should be removed permanently before anyone else is killed on his watch."

The new sheriff, Tony, worked for 12 years as an officer and then sergeant in Coral Springs. His former boss, Coral Springs Chief Clyde Parry, said Tony had a "bright future" and he was sorry to see him leave the agency in 2016.

Tony and his wife, Holly, a nurse, operate Blue Spear Solutions, which specializes in active-shooter training and provides threat assessments on schools and other businesses.

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(Staff writers Skyler Swisher and Tonya Alanez contributed to this report.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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