Broward Sheriff under scrutiny after picture with topless women surfaces, shooting controversy

NEAR FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (WSVN) — Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony has found himself in the middle of two controversies, one revolving around pictures showing him next to two topless women and the other concerning an incident from his adolescence where, he said, he shot and killed a man when he was 14 years old.

The pictures that have been causing a stir show Tony posing next to two topless women back in 2015.

The political blog Red Broward was the first to report on the pictures that, the report states, were taken at an event hosted by the Bliss Club.

The club touts itself as the “number one private party organization, in the world, for young, fit, attractive bi-sexy women and couples.”

But the pictures are not the only explosive report to surface in recent days. On Saturday, the Florida Bulldog, an investigative journalism website, published a report about the May 3, 1993 shooting in Philadelphia where Tony shot and killed a man.

The sheriff offered his side of his story on Sunday.

“This wasn’t a secret. There was no requirement for me to express that I survived a brutal attack where someone was trying to kill me when I was 14 years old,” he said.

Tony said he and his brother got into an argument with a man called Hector Rodriguez. At some point, Tony said, Rodriguez threatened to kill them.

“He basically lost it and pulled a gun out and stated he had no problem with shooting us,” he said. “I was 14. I was frightened. I’ve seen my friend shot and killed in front of me. I was brutally beaten and had my sneakers taken off at gunpoint.”

The sheriff said Rodriguez chased him and his brother into their home, and that’s when he grabbed his father’s gun and opened fire, fatally striking Rodriguez.

“I had an individual armed with a gun in our home, trying to kill me and my brother,” he said, “and fortunately, I had to respond and stop him by shooting him before he was able to kill me and my brother, and that great response, as horrific as it was, as frightening as it was, allowed me to be here today.”

Dan Christensen, who wrote the report for the Florida Bulldog, said he heard a different account from the victim’s family.

“This is a boy who would grow up to become the Broward sheriff, Gregory Tony, shot and killed a man,” he said. “That man made a joke that apparently a couple of crack addicts happened to walk by, and he said ‘There go your uncles.’ Gregory Tony didn’t like that, said ‘Don’t play with my family like that,’ ran in, got a gun, came out on his front stoop and was about 6 to 10 feet away when he fired and shot Hector Rodriguez.”

Rodriguez’s daughter took to social media and posted a photo of the news article about the incident. She wrote in part: “Cannot comment on what happened on this day 27 years ago. I was only a baby at five months old. What I can comment on is the void he has left me and what it feels like to not have a father.”

Tony said the neighborhood where he grew up was rough.

“To see my friends shot and killed in front of me. I was brutally beaten and had my sneakers taken off at gunpoint,” he said.

Tony said he was never arrested, and a judge determined he acted in self-defense. Since he was a juvenile at the time, records of the case are sealed.

“The courts and judge said, ‘No, this was self-defense. This young man had every right to protect himself and his family,'” Tony said.

The sheriff took the opportunity to explain why he never mentioned shooting when applying for law enforcement jobs.

“In all that time, every background [check] I went through, through FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or the FBI clearances that I’ve had to acquire to attain this position, and many others, it’s never come up,” he said. “It never was something that was part of an application process, and I don’t want to be examined — I don’t think anyone would — as a 14-year-old victim when you’re interviewing related to an employment process and you’re trying to display your very best. I didn’t want anybody to feel sorry for me.”

Former Coral Springs Police Chief Duncan Foster, who hired Tony when he applied at the department, said the shooting when he was 14 years old did not come up.

On the department’s application, which Tony filled out in 2005, the form asks, ‘Have you ever been arrested, charged, received a notice or summons to appear for any criminal violation?’ Tony checked “No.”

On the same page as the previous question, the form asks, ‘Have you ever been detained by any law enforcement officer for investigative purposes or to your knowledge have you ever been the subject of, or a suspect in, any criminal investigation?’ Tony again checked “No.”

“The fact remains even though he was a juvenile, we have a lot of applicants to choose from, and all things being equal, looking at people’s past job performances, what school they went to, etc., all things being equal, we would have moved onto a better qualified candidate that didn’t have the background that Greg Tony turns out that he had,” Foster said. “It would have been something that really needed to be put down on the application. The fact remains that you’re a juvenile if you’ve still been detained by law enforcement.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appointed Tony as Broward County sheriff in January 2019 after Scott Israel was relieved of his duties, discussed the matter briefly on Monday.

“It’s not like he’s my sheriff. I didn’t even know the guy. It’s not like he was a political ally of mine. I wasn’t trying to do that. I was just trying to [appoint] someone that had done a good job,” said the governor, “and I liked the fact that he had come from a real tough upbringing, Florida State football and had been a great law enforcement officer, so he’s gone through a lot of background investigations up until this point as well, and it seemed like he had the leadership.”

DeSantis also addressed the 1993 shooting, saying Tony’s actions would not have made him change his mind when he chose to appoint him.

“It seems like he was in a rough neighborhood and was trying to defend his family, so because it was self-defense, I don’t think it would have made a difference,” he said, “but it did not come up in the background check ’cause he had never been charged.”

These developments take place weeks after Tony lost a no-confidence vote from the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association over a reported lack of access to protective gear for deputies.

Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, is a longtime supporter of the sheriff. On Tuesday, he addressed the 1993 shooting during a phone interview.

“I’m glad he did it. I’m glad he pulled the trigger to save his family,” he said.

Regarding the pictures showing Tony with the topless women, Pollack said, “It was nothing more than going out to a party, having a good time with his wife.”

In a statement released Tuesday, Tony’s campaign referred to the coverage of the shooting and pictures as smear tactics by his opponent and predecessor, Scott Israel, aimed at blocking him from keeping his position ahead of the 2020 election.

It reads in part, “[Israel] tried to depict Sheriff Tony as nothing more than a black kid with a gun, but it backfired because most people see his struggles growing up among violence as an inspirational story.”

The statement goes on to say, “Now Israel is stooping even lower by releasing pictures that, instead of just attacking the sheriff, target his wife in an effort to embarrass and slander her.”

Tuesday night, Israel denied having any involvement in the release of the pictures or the story about the shooting.

Tony has not responded to 7News’ calls for comment.

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