Florida Senate Committee Recommends Upholding Scott Israel's Suspension
This story was last updated at 10:24 p.m. of Monday, Oct. 21, 2019.
The Florida Senate convened a special session Monday to decide whether former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel should be reinstated in his elected position or his removal from office should be upheld.
Just before 9 p.m. on Monday night, The Florida Senate Rules Committee decided to officially recommend that the rest of the state senate uphold Israel's removal as sheriff.
The committee will bring its conclusions to the rest of the state senators at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, for a full - and final - vote.
That's the same afternoon a hearing will be held in Broward County for the confessed Parkland school-shooter, Nikolas Cruz, ahead of his January 2020 trial.
"I have faith in the senators that they're going to rise to the occasion, look at everything, and adhere to the standard - which is what in their conscious is best for the people of Florida,” Senate President Bill Galvano said.
Governor Ron DeSantis suspended Israel as sheriff in January this year for "neglect of duty" and "incompetence" in both the 2017 shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and the 2018 shooting that killed 17 people and left 17 others injured at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
"There was no wrongdoing on my part," Israel said when he was suspended.
Several family members of victims that were killed in the Parkland school shooting have expressed their public opposition to Israel's reinstatement as sheriff. Some are in Tallahassee attending the special session this week.
"It's wrong to view these failures as isolated events," Ryan Petty said. He lost his daughter, Alaina, in the Parkland shooting. "Because they were a series of interconnected failures, all pointing to a lack of leadership by Scott Israel. Bad policy, sporadic training, inadequate equipment."
Other concerned citizens in favor of Israel came to speak in Tallahassee on his behalf:
"I've been around for some time, and I want you to know [Israel] has been - and is - the best sheriff we've ever had in Broward County," Walter Hunter told senators.
The full senate met first Monday, and then the senate Rules Committee began meeting at 10:30. They heard more than 10 hours of presentations and testimony, including questioning of both the attorney representing Gov. DeSantis, and the attorney representing Israel.
However, senators first questioned the Senate Special Master, J. Dudley Goodlette. He issued a recommendation to the senate last month that Israel be reinstated.
"Based upon all the evidence that I received, I simply do not believe that the Governor's office sustained what I believe was the burden of proving [neglect of duty and incompetence], without some measurement stick ... particularly the radio system," Goodlette said.
That was a theme of the Monday proceedings - who bears responsibility for fixing Broward's 911 radio communications system. Emergency officials couldn't communicate with each other during the 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, or during the 2018 shooting in Parkland.
Senators tried to ascertain whether that was Israel's responsibility to fix.
Sen. Lauren Book, Sen. Gary Farmer, Se. Oscar Braynon, and Sen. Perry Thurston who represent parts of Broward County, all sit on the rules committee.
When it came to decide on the recommendation Monday night, Book was in the minority. She said she voted to see Sheriff Israel reinstated to ensure accountability for another former BSO employee, Scot Petersen.
"48 minute, he didn't move," Book told her fellow senators. She is also a commissioner for the state panel that's been investigating the Parkland shooting, and making school safety recommendations to the legislature.
"And I believe that if we do not reinstate...Mr. Israel, that Deputy Petersen walks," she said.
Petersen was the school resource officer on campus during the Parkland shooting. He was arrested in June on charges of child neglect, culpable negligence and perjury.
The senate also heard from Attorney George Levesque, who represents Gov. DeSantis. He focused on three main failings of BSO as grounds for the senate to be aligned with the governor and officially remove Israel from office: a failure to investigate reports of bad behavior of the confessed shooter Cruz, a failure to actively engage the shooter on the day of the massacre, and finally failure to establish a centralized incident command structure.
"It was Mr. Israel's responsibility to make sure his deputies were prepared, and he failed them in that task. And he's also responsible for their failures because he put them out there," Levesque said."These failures constitute neglect of duty and incompetence on his part, and that is why Gov. DeSantis suspended him from office, and that is why the senate should remove him from office."
Later in the afternoon Israel's attorney, Benedict Kuehne, maintained Israel is not at fault and that last month's report recommending he be reinstated is the one senators should follow.
"Based on that review, Sheriff Israel believes that this rules committee should accept the report of the special master and determine that the govenor's suspension cannot be upheld," Kuehne said.
By the end of the senate's evening debate, Rules Commitee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto announced the agreed-upon recommendation for the full senate, to loud applause and cheers.
"The rules committee will recommend to the president [of the senate] that the evidence supports the executive order of suspension by the governor," she said. "And that Mr. Scott Israel be removed from the office of sheriff of Broward County..."