Suspended Sheriff Scott Israel defended his tenure leading the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) at a Tuesday hearing that will help decide his fate in that role.
Israel testified for more than 90 minutes at a proceeding overseen by lawyer and former lawmaker Dudley Goodlette, who was assigned by Senate President Bill Galvano to review the case. Israel’s testimony will continue Wednesday morning.
Following the hearing’s conclusion, Goodlette – the special master in the case – will send a recommendation to the Senate, which will make a final determination whether to terminate Israel or reinstate him as Sheriff.
Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Israel back in January, citing BSO’s handling of the Parkland shooting and Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting. Israel’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, pushed back against claims by DeSantis that Israel failed in his statutory role as “conservator of the peace.”
“He fulfilled that standard of competence and attention, he exercised his duties, and it is for the people of Broward County to decide who is their elected Sheriff,” Kuehne argued Tuesday.
“It is not for the Governor to, for reasons not based on fact, try to implement a narrow constitutional provision to take over the job of the electors in Broward County.”
Attorneys for DeSantis have pointed to the report from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission, which found failings in the reaction to the shooting by Broward Deputy Scot Peterson.
Peterson was a school resource officer for the high school on the day of the shooting. He recently was criminally charged with failing to confront the shooter.
As to the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting, DeSantis’ Deputy General Counsel John MacIver pointed to “chaos” that ensued during the response to the 2017 attack, asserting that BSO was not properly prepared.
But Israel and other defense witnesses defended the agency’s response, and argued any chaos was due to the 15,000-20,000 people present at the airport that day.
Ultimately, Israel said his role was not to prevent crime altogether.
“That’s not what the conservator of the peace means to me and other sheriffs,” Israel said. “It means giving your best every single day to take a proactive approach instead of a reactive approach to law enforcement.”
Kuehne also attempted to hint at framing the suspension as a political decision. DeSantis, a Republican, said during his run for Governor that he would push to suspend Israel if elected. Israel is a Democrat.
“Do you consider yourself, in the time you’ve been Sheriff, to be a sheriff or a politician?” Kuehne asked Israel.
“A sheriff,” Israel responded.
“But part of your role as an elected official is to involve yourself in political matters,” Kuehne noted.
“Most certainly,” Israel replied.
Kuehne also honed in on training efforts mandated by BSO, arguing the agency did everything they could to prepare for an event such as the Parkland shooting. That attack resulted in 17 people killed, but Kuehne argued Peterson’s inaction was not foreseeable or the fault of BSO.
“Nothing in his personnel file suggested the slightest inability to not only perform the duties of a sworn deputy, but the additional duties and responsibilities of a school resource officer,” Kuehne said during his opening statement.
Goodlette pushed to delay the Senate review until the conclusion of Israel’s court challenge. In a fast-tracked decision, the Florida Supreme Court eventually ruled against Israel.
“I’ve been called some names in my time,” Israel said near the end of his testimony Tuesday. “But in my 63 years on earth, I’ve never been called ‘incompetent,’ and I’ve never been called ‘negligent.’
“I’m a hardworking, studious person who cares deeply about the community, and I know how incredibly serious it is. These hearings are about taking my livelihood away from me. But incompetent or negligent? No, sir.”