Broward County, FL – A special investigator for the Florida State Senate has recommended that disgraced former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel should be reinstated.
Special Master Dudley Goodlette said in a report released Wednesday that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had not exceeded his authority in suspending Israel, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
However, Goodlette did not find that the allegations of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” had been proven such as to sustain the suspension.
“Despite Sheriff Israel’s suggestion otherwise, this was not a situation of executive overreach,” he wrote. “There was certainly evidence to support a prima facie (based on the first impression) case that he neglected the duties of his office.”
But the special master ultimately determined that Israel could not be held accountable for the total failure of his department’s response to the active shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 that left 17 students and staff dead, and another 17 wounded, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
He also said the governor had failed to show that Israel could have done more to prevent the Fort Lauderdale airport shootings, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
“Imposing such sweeping responsibility upon an elected official would establish an unworkable precedent,” Goodlette wrote. “Almost any elected official overseeing a large organization would be subject to removal at any time because even well trained and supervised employees can make grievous mistakes.”
Israel was suspended by DeSantis just a few days after the new governor was sworn into office.
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.
Then-Sheriff Israel became the subject of intense criticism after it was discovered that members of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) failed to respond to the active shooter in accordance with modern law enforcement training.
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 BSO deputies had failed to make any attempt to stop the shooter as they listened to him shoot 34 students and staff.
The governor refused to go into detail about Sheriff Israel suspension when he made the announcement.
“I have no interest in dancing on Scott Israel’s political grave,” DeSantis said at the time. “Just suffice it to say that the massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department.”
He told reporters he didn’t want to detail the “neglect and incompetence” of Sheriff Israel’s administration.
“We lay it out in the suspension order – and I don’t have the inclination to rehash his failings,” DeSantis said.
After he was suspended, Israel argued DeSantis had been politically motivated and usurped the will of Broward County voters, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
Broward Circuit Judge David Haimes heard arguments from both sides earlier in April and ruled for the governor, prompting the appeal to the state supreme court that was placed on a fast track.
The court ruled that the bar was low for DeSantis to justifiably remove an official from office, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The governor only needed to establish that he could cite clear allegations of neglect of duty or misconduct, the court ruled.
Israel challenged his suspension and asked for a Senate hearing on the matter.
His request was granted, and he testified before lawmakers in Tallahassee, then began directing his energy at getting his old job back by being re-elected sheriff in the upcoming election.
Goodlette’s report does not necessarily mean that Israel will be reinstated, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
The final decision rests with the Florida State Senate, which will vote whether to reinstate him as Broward sheriff the week of Oct. 21.
In his report, Goodlette said Israel shouldn’t be fired just because former Broward Deputy Scot Peterson failed to engage the shooter that day, the Sun-Sentinel reported.
He also said that the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s active shooter policy mirrored several other Florida law enforcement agencies, stating that an officer “may engage” rather than “shall engage.”
Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Bell, president of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association which held a vote of "no confidence" and asked the governor to intervene, told Blue Lives Matter that deputies would put the safety of Broward residents first, regardless of what the state senate decided.
"Our union respects democracy and the process," Deputy Bell said. "If the state senate decides to reinstate Scott Israel as Sheriff of Broward County, we will respect that decision and do our best to foster a good working relationship."