State

DeSantis Delivers on His Campaign Promise, Florida Senate Votes to Remove Broward Sheriff

Almost two years after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the families of the victims are reliving the pain all over again with the debate over the removal of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. 

After the fatal event on Feb. 14, 2018, Gov. Ron DeSantis made the removal of Israel one of his main objectives during his election campaign in 2018. 

DeSantis, who was supported by many parents of the students who died, accused Israel of failing to effectively lead which ultimately allowed for the tragedy to occur. As a result, DeSantis suspended Israel on Jan. 11, 2019.  

The decision was an executive order and is allowed under Article 4, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution. This section allows DeSantis to suspend any state official like a sheriff for reasons such as “neglect of duty” or “incompetence.” 

 In his suspension order, DeSantis cited several instances where the Stoneman Douglas gunman threatened to be violent toward those in the school, yet no action was taken by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

According to the order, DeSantis stated that “due to his demonstrated neglect of duty and incompetence, Sheriff Israel can no longer demonstrate the qualifications necessary to meet his duties in office.” 

Israel viewed his suspension as politically motivated, with DeSantis only interested in gaining Broward County voters. DeSantis appointed Gregory Tony as the new Broward County Sheriff for the remainder of Israel’s term, which is set to end in 2020. 

In a bid to be reinstated by the Senate, Israel hired an attorney, Benedict Kuehne. Hearings on the matter began in June 2019. 

According to Kuehne, DeSantis’s decision to remove Israel “was not for any legal matter, was not for any constitutional reasons, but was a brutal ploy designed to obtain his election and fulfill his promise to the National Rifle Association.” 

Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, hired Special Master Dudley Goodlette to review DeSantis’s case and give a recommendation to whether Israel should be reinstated. 

A Special Master serves as a representative of the court and hears the evidence in cases that involve complicated civil actions. They then make recommendations on behalf of the court, Congress may hire a Special Master to aid in a decision. 

According to Goodlette’s recommendation, Israel should have been reinstated as the Broward County Sheriff. The Republican-controlled Senate voted otherwise, disregarding the recommendation. 

On Wednesday, Oct. 23, in a 25-15 vote along party lines, the Senate voted to remove Israel from his position. This decision gained the support from many parents who lost loved ones in the shooting.

Lori Alhadeff, who lost her 14-year-old daughter Alyssa, stated that “there is finally accountability for the many failures.”

Another parent, Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow, said that with the decision kids attending school in Broward “could be rest assured that that county will be a lot safer without…this failed sheriff in Broward County.” 

While the majority of the Senate may have sided with DeSantis’ decision, many senators remain in disagreement over Israel’s removal.

The only Republican to vote against the removal was Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotasassa, citing that the Senate was “weaponized for political purposes.”

On the other side of the aisle, the majority of Democrats argued that DeSantis’ ability to remove the sheriff without enough evidence, gives the governor too much legislative overreach.

Sen. Gray Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, stated that “if we don’t follow laws, or we ignore them when it’s convenient or when the politics are convincing us to do so, we more towards anarchy.”

Senate President Bill Galvano stood by the decision, arguing that it establishes the level of accountability for public officials whose jobs are to protect citizens from tragedies like the Parkland shooting.  While Israel may have been removed, he is allowed to run again for the position in 2020. And that is exactly what he intends to do, stating that he is “running for election in 2020, and the voters in Broward County, they understand the injustice.”

Featured photo: Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel visits Parkland shooting survivor Anthony Borges in the hospital on Feb. 18, 2018. (Courtesy Photo: Broward County Sheriff’s Office)

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