New Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Friday over his handling of the Parkland school massacre.
The Republican governor flew to Fort Lauderdale three days after taking office to remove Israel and appointed a former police sergeant to serve as acting sheriff.
During a news conference outside the sheriff’s office headquarters, DeSantis said: ‘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.
‘Suffice it to say, the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.’
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (left) suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (right) on Friday over his handling of the Parkland school massacre
The new 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 that Israel failed to keep families and children safe before and during the February 14 shooting that left 14 students and three staff members dead inside the three-story freshman building.
Nikolas Cruz, 20 faces 17 murder charges for the mass shooting in addition to aggravated assault on an officer and one count of use of an electric or chemical weapon against a law enforcement officer.
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 previously 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.
DeSantis (left) introduces acting sheriff Gregory Tony (right) who is the first African-American to serve as Broward’s sheriff
DeSantis shakes hands with supporters and family members of the Parkland massacre at a news conference on Friday
Deputies also 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.
He argued 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.
‘There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the county honorably. False narratives may continue, but not in a court of law. In a court of law, only the facts matter,’ he said.
Scott Israel (center) said he ‘wholeheartedly’ rejected the governor’s order to replace him and would fight the decision in court
Demonstrators exchange words before the start of a news conference by Governor DeSantis
Under Florida law, the governor can suspend elected officials for criminal activity, misfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty.
If Israel challenges the suspension, the state Senate would hold a trial and could either fire or reinstate him.
DeSantis’ Republican predecessor, now-U.S. Senator Rick Scott, refused to suspend Israel, saying he wanted to wait until investigations were completed.
A 15-member state commission that recently completed its initial report on the shooting said deputies also had about 20 contacts with Cruz as a juvenile – mostly over arguments with his now-deceased mother. Israel has said none of those contacts warranted an arrest.
Nikolas Cruz (pictured) fatally shot 17 people during massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018
The victims: Fourteen students, a geography teacher, a coach and an athletic director were shot dead in Florida high school massacre
Law enforcement members of the state commission investigating the shooting have agreed with that conclusion.
But commissioners also concluded that the department’s active shooter training had not been effective.
However Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission’s chairman, and other law enforcement officials on the panel have said they didn’t think Israel should be suspended.
Israel, 62, was elected sheriff in 2012 after a long career in law enforcement.
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.
He promoted Stone’s inexperienced stepson to detective and for accepting gifts from a wealthy benefactor.