Tallahassee, FL – The Florida State Senate voted 25 to 15 on Wednesday to permanently remove former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel from office.
The vote ran almost entirely along party lines.
All five Broward senators – who are Democrats - voted to reinstate the disgraced law enforcement official against the wishes of the parents of the students who died in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Former Sheriff Israel was in charge on that fateful Valentine’s Day in 2018 when a gunman murdered 17 students and staff, and wounded another 17 more, at the Parkland high school while Broward sheriff’s deputies stayed outside and failed to respond to the active shooter in accordance with modern law enforcement training.
Critics had been demanding that the sheriff be removed since his department’s grossly inept handling of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and the active shooter at the Fort Lauderdale airport.
He was suspended in January by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis just a few days after the new governor was sworn into office.
An investigation conducted by a special commission established by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, at the request of former Governor Rick Scott, determined that multiple Broward sheriff’s deputies had failed to make any attempt to stop the shooter as they listened to him shoot 34 students and staff.
Israel challenged his suspension in the courts and in the state senate, where he asked for a hearing on the matter.
A judge ruled in April that DeSantis was within his rights as governor to suspend the sheriff.
Then in September, a special investigator appointed by the Florida Senate determined that Israel could not be held accountable for a total failure of his department’s response to active shooters.
The hearing on Wednesday, which was seen as the last step for the families of victims in the gallery, brought an end to a year-and-a-half of finger pointing.
“This isn’t a win for anybody because nothing brings back 17 people," Gena Hoyer, mother of Parkland victim Luke, told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “This is a removal for all the citizens of Broward County. It’s not just for Parkland.”
Another Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School parent who was elected to the Broward School Board after her daughter Alyssa’s murder on Feb. 14, 2018 said the Florida Senate’s vote brought accountability for the failures surrounding the active shooter at Parkland.
“I wanted truth, justice, and accountability, and today we received some accountability,” Lori Alhadeff said. “It was important for me to be here today because I wanted to look into the senators’ eyes, hear what senators voted yes and no, to see it for myself.”
The parents were disappointed and outraged when their local Broward senators voted along Democratic Party lines to reinstate the man they blame for their children’s deaths, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Democratic Florida State Senator Perry Thurston tried to defend his vote by claiming “95 percent of Broward County feels differently about the attempt to remove the sheriff.”
However, pictures posted to Twitter by Parkland parents during the hearing showed that instead of watching the debate on Oct. 23, Thurston was napping in his seat while his colleagues debated Israel’s removal, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Thurston tried to claim that he wasn’t sleeping but was deep in thought planning his speech when the picture was taken.
However, the brother of Parkland victim Meadow Pollack, who shared the picture, said that it was taken more than an hour after Thurston gave his speech to the senate, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
“What is happening in Tallahassee now is a big deal. At a minimum you could stay awake for these proceedings. Shameful!!!.” Fred Guttenberg, father of Jaime who was murdered at Parkland, angrily tweeted.
After the vote, Israel’s attorney said the whole process had been “fundamentally unfair” to his client, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
“We are frankly shocked and quite honestly appalled by the lack of due process,” Benedict Kuehne said after the vote.
It’s not yet known whether Israel will try to appeal his removal in federal court, but the beleaguered former sheriff has already announced that he’s running for re-election in 2020, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported.
Israel filed to run for Broward sheriff again in July.
"I'm out and about,” he said when he announced his candidacy. “I haven't stopped campaigning, even post-suspension, and I know that the Broward County residents, the Broward County voter, is fully aware that we had a governor make a promise - a campaign promise - to suspend the sheriff.”
Israel told reporters he was still planning to run after the senate voted to uphold his suspension.