Gov. Ron DeSantis has been slowly spelling out Broward Sheriff Scott Israel’s fate all week, hinting in a series of press gaggles that he was considering the embattled politician’s removal and vetting replacements.
By Wednesday, Florida’s new governor had made it to S-U-S-P. On Thursday, the E-N-D was nigh.
DeSantis announced in the evening that he plans to visit BSO’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters Friday afternoon to “make a statement on holding government officials accountable.” DeSantis will be accompanied by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Attorney General Ashley Moody.
The governor’s press office did not respond to a request for comment, and Israel did not respond to a text message. But according to a source familiar with DeSantis’ plans, the governor will announce during the appearance that he is suspending Israel and will name his replacement.
DeSantis, according to the source, intends to name retired Coral Springs Police Sgt. Gregory Tony as Broward’s interim sheriff. Israel’s suspension and Tony’s selection were first reported by Politico. The announcement is scheduled for 3 p.m.
Tony, 40, is president of Blue Spear Solutions, a security company that according to its website specializes in active shooter and mass casualty training. The company trains “both private and public sector stakeholders in tactics, techniques, and protocols that will increase victim survivability rates under these violent occurrences.” Tony, who has a master’s degree in criminal justice from Nova Southeastern University, would be Broward’s first black sheriff.
Tony could not be reached for comment.
Israel has been under heavy criticism for nearly a year over his agency’s response to the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and has been telling subordinates all week that he expects to be suspended. Should he wish to fight his suspension, the Florida Senate would conduct a hearing to determine whether he should be removed or reinstated.
Some Broward Democrats have grown alarmed as evidence built that DeSantis would suspend Israel. His removal would come less than two months after former Gov. Rick Scott suspended Broward elections supervisor Brenda Snipes over his frustrations with the midterm recount.
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, said the Broward voters who reelected Israel to a four-year term in 2016 should decide their sheriff.
“I think there are some criticisms of Sheriff Israel’s department that are fair, but I don’t know that it rises to the level of removal from office by the governor,” Farmer said Tuesday. “It’s a little concerning to me for the second time in less than two months we’re going to have a Republican governor removing a democratically elected constitutional officer in the most populous Democratic county in the state of Florida.”
Still, public outrage has been immense over Israel’s handling of the Parkland shooting, where 17 students and faculty members were killed and another 17 wounded by a former student who came onto campus with a high-powered rifle. And under law, Florida’s governor can suspend an elected official for issues involving negligence, misfeasance or incompetence.
A report recently issued by a commission convened by the state government to investigate the response to the shooting was highly critical of BSO, finding that not only did the deputy assigned to the school fail to try and stop the massacre, but responding deputies were slow to respond and ill-trained, and in some cases gave investigators conflicting and untruthful information.
The commission also took issue with Israel’s decision to change the agency’s active shooter policy so that deputies “may” confront an active shooter, rather than “shall,” and found gaps in law enforcement’s response to dozens of calls and reports about shooter Nikolas Cruz’s troubling behavior.
Meanwhile, Coral Springs police were largely praised for their response, although Tony retired from the department before the shooting took place.
Herald/Times reporter Emily Mahoney contributed to this report.