It’s official. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has canned embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
He announced the suspension Friday afternoon and pointed the blame at Israel for massive failures in response to the Parkland school shooting.
DeSantis released a statement:
“Sheriff Israel has repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership. He failed to protect Floridians and visitors during the tragic Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting in 2017. He failed in his duties to keep our families and children safe during the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. These incidents demonstrate Sheriff’s Israel’s repeated incompetence and neglect of duty. The families of the victims deserve accountability.”
At the beginning of the week, the Miami Herald reported that according to sources, the two-term sheriff had told his top brass that he was going to be removed from office by Governor Ron DeSantis, who was sworn into office this week.
Ah, anonymous sources. They are arguably why we have such a prevalence of “false news”. Many media outlets, including our own, shared the information released by the Miami Herald.
But shortly after, Governor DeSantis’ office denied that the governor officially suspended Israel.
As a matter of fact, a spokesperson for DeSantis told Fox News that nobody from the governor’s team has had any contact with Israel or his attorneys.
So what’s the deal?
There have been strong calls for Israel to resign since 17 people were killed during the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In April, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association voted “no confidence” in Israel, citing national criticism around him.
Israel, for his party, has promised to fight any effort to strip him from his office. The 61-year-old says that while mistakes were made in responding to the shootings, they weren’t serious enough to warrant his suspension or removal from office.
But the argument has been made that it wasn’t just the response to the shootings, but rather what lead to them. Last week, a nearly 500-page report was issued by a state panel investing the massacre and just how the killer was able to cause so many deaths.
The committee blamed security breakdowns, a lack of training from deputies, outdated and malfunctioning radios and more. But there have been serious questions about whether Broward County Sheriff policies failed to stop this in advance. The alleged shooter had a history of emotional and disciplinary issues which had been extensively documented.
As soon as reports hit the media over the potential suspension of Israel by the new governor… debate raged. Can the governor remove Israel?
The answer is a little more complicated than just “yes” or “no”.
Under the Florida Constitution, the governor has the power to SUSPEND any official that’s not subject to impeachment. From there, it goes to the state Senate to decide whether or not to permanently remove an official from their office or choose to reinstate him or her.
Under those qualifying conditions for a suspension, included are “”malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”
And it wouldn’t be unprecedented. In his two terms, former Florida Governor Scott suspended officials from nearly every level of government, along with notaries public – a total of at least 40 individuals.
Now with that said, in the vast majority of those suspensions, those officials had been accused of crimes. Just five of them were for non-criminal reasons.
But Governor Scott never removed a Florida sheriff for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty [or] incompetence, which is what Florida House Republicans used to justify calling for Israel’s oust last year. Israel is a Democrat. It’s a safe assumption that if DeSantis were to suspend Israel, the state Senate wouldn’t want to embarrass the head of the party by overruling him.
There’s still a criminal investigation underway by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and it’ll ultimately fall on Florida’s Legislature and DeSantis to decide what to do with Israel.
In the report dropped last week by the 15-member Marjory Stoneman Douglas public safety commission, it was noted that long after the shooting, there were key people involved including sheriff’s deputies and high school assistant principals who gave accounts to investigators that contradicted evidence, which included surveillance video. It lead the panel to determine they were either lying or incompetent. The panel, however, did not offer an opinion on whether the sheriff or the school superintendent should either resign or be removed.