MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel maintains that Republican Governor Ron DeSantis and Republicans in the Florida Senate helped orchestrate his permanent removal from office during a vote last week.
“It was a sham. It was political,” Israel told CBS 4’s Carey Codd during a lengthy interview on Friday. “The 2016 Sheriff’s election was stolen. The Governor said it was null and void. This is a dangerous precedent. A slippery slope for Broward County, for Florida, for America.”
Israel believes the effort to oust him was purely political by Governor Desantis and he points to three things. First, Republican Governor Rick Scott did not remove him right after the Parkland shooting, the Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, who led the MSD Commission determined he should not lose his job and a former Republican State Representative, Dudley Goodlette, who oversaw Israel’s Senate trial, determined he should be reinstated.
The criticisms leveled against Israel are many and CBS 4 News asked him what responsibility he feels for the Parkland shooting in 2018 that left 17 people dead and 17 others injured.
“I’m responsible for everything that goes on within the parameters of the Broward Sheriff’s Office — good or bad. That doesn’t mean I’m culpable. As I said the only person responsible for taking lives is an evil killer, who is now awaiting trial,” Israel said.
But many families of the Parkland victims, Governor Desantis and a majority of Republican Senators allege that it was Israel’s failed leadership that led to a series of fatal errors that day, like deputies who failed to confront the active killer, a change in BSO’s active shooter policy and a lack of active shooter training.
“We depended on BSO to protect our families,” Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina died at BSO, told the Senate Rules Committee last week. “With Mr. Israel they failed us when we needed the most.”
“When it mattered most, everyone wearing a green uniform failed,” said Senator Rob Bradley (R-District 5).
“The failure that knots my stomach the most is the failure of BSO to enter the building during the shooting,” said Gena Hoyer, whose son Luke died in the shooting when she testified before the Senate Rules Committee.
A number of deputies heard gunshots when they arrived near the school. The sounds were heard on their body-worn cameras. But Israel pushed back on specifics of their actions.
“Those 8 deputies weren’t on campus,” he said. “That’s a complete falsification. Those 8 deputies were on Holmberg Road. On an outer perimeter, where Scot Peterson told them. One of his transmissions was stay 500 feet back.”
Israel said former BSO deputy Peterson bears much responsibility for the failures that day.
“Peterson didn’t go in because he was afraid. No other reason,” Israel said.
A reporter asked, “Do you feel you’re paying the price for that? For his inaction? HIs cowardice?”
“Well, I’ve lost my job, to some degree, yes,” Israel said.
“And had he gone in, it wouldn’t have shined a spotlight on yourself or on BSO?” A reporter asked.
“I believe if he went in, we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” Israel said.
Another criticism is that Israel changed the active shooter policy from shall confront an active shooter to may confront an active shooter.
Israel has said in the past that he didn’t want his deputies to be on a suicide mission.
“Everyone knows that ‘may’ and ‘shall’ is a red herring,” Israel said. “That ‘may’ policy is a policy that’s represented by hundreds if not thousands of law enforcement agencies around the country.”
Another criticism of Israel’s leadership came from Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime died at MSD.
“He put Sheriff’s deputies who would not run into the sound of bullets. That’s what we had in Parkland. He admitted it,” Guttenberg said during the Rules Committee meeting in Tallahassee last week.
Israel said he doesn’t want to appear to criticize the Parkland families but he said he never said that.
“I never made that statement,” Israel said Friday “Deputies chose where they wanted to work. All deputies were trained. This wasn’t a training issue.”
Israel also addressed his infamous comment that he made on CNN a week or after the Parkland shooting about providing “amazing leadership” to BSO. He acknowledges it was a mistake and said he made the comment after watching BSO come under constant attack and be the focus of what he called “false reports” in the wake of the shooting.
“If I could have went on again I would have said, ‘the Broward Sheriff’s Office, judge these men and women by the body of their work, not one incident. Let the investigation go on but these are fine men and women, they protect and serve,’” Israel said.
Israel is running for Sheriff again in 2020. He already has a commanding fundraising lead among other candidates who have filed to run. Current Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony has not yet filed. Israel discussed his reasons for running.
“I’m a sheriff. I’m a leader,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do. People in the county want me to run again. My family wants to run again. God doesn’t like quitters. I have no intention of quitting. I plan on winning and I plan on being Sheriff.”
But Israel knows that he’ll face criticism, including from many families of Parkland victims.
“Just pray for them,” he said. “They can say what they want in the campaign, in the voting booth or a debate, I’m not gonna push back on them.
“But the Sheriff in Broward County — you’re not the sheriff for a group of people. You’re not the sheriff for a town or a city. You’re not the sheriff for an airport, a seaport or a park. In Broward County, you’re the Sheriff for 2 million people, one million voters. And no one’s vote is more or less important than anyone else.”