Scott Israel Out As Broward Sheriff; Replaced By Former Coral Springs Police Sergeant
Gov. Ron DeSantis has officially removed and suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
DeSantis, sworn in as governor Tuesday, visited the Broward Sheriff's Office headquarters in Fort Lauderdale Friday afternoon to put weeks of rumors about Israel's fate to rest.
"I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel's political grave," DeSantis told a cheering crowd. "Just suffice it to say that the massacre might never have happened if Broward had better leadership in the sheriff's department."
Israel, first elected as Broward sheriff in 2012, was re-elected in 2016. He has been heavily criticized for his leadership of BSO's response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
The report investigating the shooting, from the statewide public safety commission, details BSO deputy failures and confusion: Officers avoided confronting the shooting and hid behind cars and trees. Several officers spent extra time to put on bullet-protective vests because they did not arrive wearing them. And many officers were confused about the video surveillance footage, and who was in charge on which sides of the school.
In front of the commission in November, Israel defended his decision to write that BSO's active shooter policy, which said officers "may" attempt to enter an area to save lives, instead of officers "shall" enter an area to save lives.
"The reason I inserted 'may' and believe wholeheartedly in that word, sheriff, is because I want an effective, tactical response - not a suicide response," Israel told commission chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
Florida law allows the governor to remove an elected official for malfeasance, misfeasance, incompetence, or neglect of duty.
DeSantis cited neglect of duty and incompetence as his reasons for suspending Israel - over his response to the Parkland shooting, nearly one year ago.
At BSO headquarters Friday, DeSantis also named Israel's replacement: 40-year-old former Coral Springs Police Sgt. Gregory Tony.
"I am not here for any type of political grandiose or agenda," Tony said. "I am here to serve....with any type of expertise and training agendas and any other equipment elements that's been lacking here, it's coming your way."
Tony is the president of a private company, Blue Spear Solutions, that specializes in active shooter training and conducts threat assessments for schools.
Tony will also be Broward County's first black sheriff. Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas, helped moderate the press conference. He said Israel's removal is the first step, but not the only step that needs to be taken to increase school security.
"There's one more leader that needs to be held acocuntable in order for our kids to be safe at the schools," he said. "And that's Broward School Board Superintendent [Robert] Runcie."
"I'm not going to stop until the kids in Broward are safe," he said.
Many of the victims' families - including Ryan Petty, Fred Guttenberg, and Max Schachter thanked DeSantis for removing Israel from office.
Debbie Hixon lost her husband, Chris Hixon, in the shooting.
"He is one of the adults that ran in that building immediately, as soon as he heard that something was going on," she said. "I look forward to a sheriff who trains his staff members and his law enforcement to do just that - to run in and to protect the way that they promise they would do."
Tony will serve as the interim Broward County sheriff through the end of Israel's term in 2020 .
"Appointing Sgt. Gregory Tony as the new sheriff of Broward, I believe is the way to look forward, to bring leadership, competence and accountability to the department," DeSantis said. "You couldn't have anyone that would be more tailor-made for this position."
Israel held a seperate press conference down the street at New Mount Olive Baptist Church. He read a statement which, in part, stated:
"Let me be clear, I wholeheartedly reject the statement in the Governor's executive order as lacking both legal merit and a valid factual basis. There was no wrongdoing on my part."
The state senate still has to officially approve DeSantis's decision to remove Israel. Senators are expected to do so in a hearing.
One of Israel's attorneys, Stuart Kaplan, told reporters that Israel does plan to run for re-election in 2020 if he is not reinstated by the Florida senate. He plans to fight the suspension.