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Parkland shooting: Broward’s suspended sheriff sues Ron DeSantis

Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott 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.”
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018, near Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland where where 17 people were killed Wednesday. (Amy Beth Bennett/Sun Sentinel/TNS) 1223746
Published Mar. 7
Updated Mar. 7

The Florida sheriff who was suspended by the governor and accused of failing to prevent the Parkland school shooting filed suit Thursday seeking his job back and alleging Gov. Ron DeSantis improperly ousted him for political reasons.

Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott 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.

DeSantis, who suspended Israel from his elected position in January and appointed an acting sheriff, had 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 declined to give further comment Thursday.

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.

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