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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami/AP) — Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel filed a lawsuit Thursday against Governor Ron DeSantis saying he wants his job back and alleges DeSantis improperly ousted him for political reasons.
Israel’s suspension was one of DeSantis’ first actions after the Republican governor took off in January. DeSantis said it was because the former Sheriff failed to prevent the Parkland school shooting.
Israel argues in the lawsuit that DeSantis “engineered a political power play that interferes with the right of the public to determine their elected official,” and says the governor failed to prove that Israel acted incompletely or neglected his duties.
“We believe the removal of Sheriff Israel was improper,” said Stuart Kaplan, one of Israel’s lawyers.
When DeSantis suspended Israel, he said Israel displayed poor leadership and failed to keep families and children safe before and during the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead.
“It is lamentable that Scott Israel refuses to be held accountable for his actions and continues to hold disregard for the law,” DeSantis’ spokeswoman Helen Ferre said in a statement.
She said the governor suspended Israel in accordance with Florida constitutional authority, citing “neglect of duty and incompetence” in both the Parkland slayings and a mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport in early 2017.
The Florida Legislature, which has final say on the suspension, is reviewing the matter. The Senate president has appointed a special master to preside over a hearing on the suspension, likely to take place next month.
Before the shooting, Israel had changed his department’s policy to say deputies “may” confront shooters, instead of “shall.” Critics say that gave eight deputies an excuse for not confronting the gunman during the shooting.
In the lawsuit, Israel said DeSantis did “not identify or describe any mandatory duty neglected or incompetently fulfilled by Sheriff Israel” and therefore the executive order “is an invalid exercise of authority. Sheriff Israel is entitled to reinstatement as Broward County Sheriff.”
The ousted sheriff has already said he intends to run for office again next year.
Israel’s attorney, Stuart Kaplan, described the move by DeSantis as a “political ploy” calling it a “convenient fulfillment of a campaign promise and to satisfy the National Rifle Association.”
Kaplan is asking a Broward County Judge to determine that Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to remove Israel from office in early January infringed on the rights of Broward voters.
“Our right to vote is such an inherent, fundamental right that you don’t want to take away the democratic process from the individual voters,” Kaplan told CBS4’s Carey Codd.
Kaplan also mentions in the lawsuit he believes that DeSantis’ comments in this week’s State of the State address in Tallahassee were out of line. DeSantis spoke about removing Israel and replacing him with Sheriff Gregory Tony.
“Why any senator would want to thumb his nose at the Parkland families and eject Sheriff Tony whose doing a great job and is making history as the African-American sheriff in the history of Broward, is beyond me,” DeSantis said in the speech.
Kaplan said the comments were akin to tainting the jury pool because Israel has also appealed his suspension to the Florida Senate.
“It’s almost like a veiled threat that if you vote against me or vote against my recommendation, you’re thumbing your nose at the family,” Kaplan said.
In the lawsuit, Kaplan counters that Israel provided active shooter training to deputies and cannot be held responsible for the actions of confessed killers. Kaplan also Israel is not responsible for the actions of deputies like Scot Peterson.
“Scot Peterson was paralyzed by fear. He cowered. You can’t put that on the Sheriff,” Kaplan said.
Several parents of slain students had pushed the newly elected Republican governor to remove Israel, a Democrat. Calls for Israel’s ouster began shortly after the shooting when it was revealed that the Broward deputy assigned to guard the school, Scot Peterson, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter, but took cover outside.
The heat increased after it was learned the sheriff’s office received and disregarded a call in 2016 and another in 2017 warning that suspect Nikolas Cruz, now 20, was a potential school shooter. Deputies also had about 20 contacts with Cruz as a juvenile — mostly over arguments with his now-deceased mother.
Israel has said none of those contacts warranted an arrest. Law enforcement members of the state commission investigating the shooting have agreed with that conclusion.
Cruz remains jailed, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)