Two months ago, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel blamed the NRA for the Parkland school shooting that killed 17 students and staff. Now, his own deputies are blaming him for low morale and poor management of the Sheriff’s Department.
Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association held a confidence vote on Sheriff Israel, who became a media darling in the days following the Parkland school shooting. The “no confidence” vote wasn’t even close: 534 to 94, exposing the deep rift between the sheriff and his deputies. While the vote is symbolic, it will likely trigger action from the Florida governor.
Sheriff Israel took a decidedly political stance after the shooting, blaming the NRA and even pro-gun Republicans for the “culture” that led Nikolas Cruz to go on his shooting rampage.
As the investigation into the shooting progressed, severe failings within the sheriff’s department were exposed. When it was discovered that shooter Nikolas Cruz had been investigated by Broward sheriffs prior to the shooting, and cleared. The sheriff’s department has also been faulted for bad policy that kept deputies outside the school during the shooting, rather than going in to confront the shooter.
Deputies are now asking Florida Governor Rick Scott to remove Israel from office.
Amazingly, CNN was one of the first media outlets to report on the no confidence vote. It’s a marked turnaround for the news network, who held a televised town hall after the shooting and gave Israel a platform to blame the NRA for the tragedy. Now, they are eager to report that it is time for him to go.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association vote was 534-94, with union President Jeff Bell vowing to ask Scott to consider removing Israel and praising the “great courage” of members who voted “under threat of retaliation and reprisal.”
“I cannot tell Gov. Scott how to do his job, but I’m asking him … to re-evaluate the position of sheriff,” Bell said. “If he feels that Sheriff Israel must be removed or suspended, we will fully support him in that decision.”
Bell said it was the union’s first vote of no confidence against a sheriff.
“He fails to listen to the people,” he said of Israel. “He fails to listen to the membership and he wants to blame everybody else for his problems.”
Bell said 628 members voted and at least two grievances will be filed accusing supervisors of attempting to suppress the no confidence vote.
Incredibly, Israel was defiant after the vote.
Israel said in a statement that he was accountable only to the citizens of the county.
“My job is to continue to do the job I was elected to do, which is to ensure the safety of Broward County’s 1.9 million residents,” the statement said. “I will not be distracted from my duties by this inconsequential IUPA union vote.”
Israel accused the union of using the vote to “extort a 6.5% pay raise from this agency,” a charge Bell denied.
“Those who purportedly voted in this straw ballot reflect only a small number of the 5,400 BSO employees,” Israel said. “The unions representing the vast majority of our employees solidly support the leadership of this agency.”
The announcement to hold a vote of no confidence was made Friday and the union cited “many instances of malfeasance … and the lack of leadership” as reasons for Thursday’s vote.
The union also said the sheriff’s handling of the Parkland school shooting enraged the rank and file, including an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper during which Israel boasted of his “amazing leadership.”
The matter is now in the hands of Gov. Rick Scott.
At Scott’s request, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting as well as the law enforcement response.
“Gov. Scott believes that people must be held accountable for the reported failures in response to the school shooting in Parkland, which is why he immediately called for a full and systematic FDLE investigation into the matter,” spokesman John Tupps said in a statement.
“Once that investigation is complete, and we have all the facts, the appropriate steps will be taken to hold people accountable.”
According to Florida statue, Scott has the power to suspend the sheriff for actions such as “misfeasance” and “neglect of duty” and may fill the office by appointment for the period of suspension. The actual power to remove the sheriff from office is in the hands of the state Senate.
It wouldn’t be the first time Scott has acted against rogue sheriffs.
Scott exercised his power to suspend a sheriff in 2016, after then-Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair was indicted on two counts of perjury. In that case, Scott appointed an interim sheriff.
Since the no confidence vote campaign against Israel started last week, two other unions — The Federation Of Public Employees and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #53 — have written letters of support for the sheriff.
“As your largest union, we support you and have confidence in how you are running this large complex agency,” said the letter from the public employees’ union, which claims to represent 2,500 Broward Sheriff’s Office employees.
While the no confidence vote against Israel is symbolic, Bell said it represents the collective voice of the rank and file deputies, and he plans to use that voice to pressure the governor to act.
Bell said Scott’s failure to remove Israel would mean he “agrees the sheriff is an amazing leader.”