FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The sheriff suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis over the Parkland high school shooting should be reinstated, a Florida Senate official said Wednesday, arguing the governor failed to show the sheriff’s policies or alleged negligence were to blame for the massacre of 17 people.
Florida Senate special master Dudley Goodlette’s recommendation sets up a difficult decision for the GOP-led state Senate. DeSantis, a Republican, suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel as one of his first acts in office and lawmakers will have to choose whether to follow their governor’s lead or agree with Goodlette’s conclusion that Israel should get his job back.
Goodlette, who had been appointed by the Senate to look into the suspension process, said that DeSantis did not prove the charges in suspending Israel in January.
“While the governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures or trainings on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards,” Goodlette wrote in a report. He added that the shooting was the culmination of “individual failures,” especially on the part of Scot Peterson, the school resource officer on duty that day.
Israel had argued that DeSantis had overreached his authority and suspended him for political reasons, and sought an award for his legal fees in defending his efforts to be reinstated.
Israel said during a news conference Wednesday afternoon that he appreciated Goodlette’s recommendation and was looking forward to making his case at a Senate hearing.
“I was elected to protect the public, and I just want to get back to do what I was elected to do,” Israel said.
He said he’s confident senators will be fair and impartial and that he’ll ultimately get his job back.
In a statement, DeSantis said he disagreed with Goodlette’s analysis and he awaits the Senate’s judgment.
“Floridians were appalled by Scott Israel’s repeated failures and expect their senators will provide the accountability that the Parkland families have sought for the past year and a half,” the governor said.
The situation is fraught with politics. Broward County is a major Democratic stronghold, and that could play a part in what the Senate decides to do. Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican from Bradenton, is counseling senators not to make any public statements until the Senate considers the matter at a special session set for Oct. 21.
Despite the special master’s recommendation, the Senate can vote any way it chooses on whether Israel will be reinstated as sheriff. There is no appeal.
Goodlette declined to recommend awarding fees. He said there was some evidence that at first glance could seem to support the governor’s position and that “this was not a situation of executive overreach” on the part of DeSantis.
Goodlette collected evidence and held two days of hearings on the matter in June.
Israel’s attorneys say they’re optimistic the Senate president and the rest of the Senate will allow him to resume his position as sheriff.
“This is not a time for politics, but for doing the right thing in support of real evidence and the law,” according to a statement from Israel’s attorneys.
Israel’s suspension came after intense criticism, particularly over his handling of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people on Feb. 14, 2018.
Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the shooting, said Wednesday, “I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach.”
Alhadeff and several other Parkland parents had pushed the governor to remove Israel, a Democrat. Calls for Israel’s ouster began shortly after the shooting when it was revealed that Peterson, the school’s resource officers, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter, but sought cover outside.
A former student was arrested shortly after the shooting and faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder.
Israel was criticized for a shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017. A gunman who had flown from Alaska opened fire with a handgun he had brought in checked luggage, killing five people and wounding six others. Esteban Santiago-Ruiz, a diagnosed schizophrenic, eventually pleaded guilty to the shooting and is serving a life sentence.
Goodlette, in his written recommendation, said that sheriff’s deputies acted appropriately in responding to that shooting, and that the chaos that ensued at the airport was largely due to false reports of an additional shooting from an airport staffer not under Israel’s control.
After Israel’s suspension, DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony as sheriff. Tony served for many years with the Coral Springs Police Department and later worked at a private security consulting firm.
Even with the suspension, Israel has been saying he will run for re-election as sheriff next year.
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