Special Master Dudley Goodlette says Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel should be reinstated to his position after he was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis made the move back in January, signing an Executive Order citing the Broward Sheriff’s Office’s (BSO) handling of the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“Sheriff Israel and the BSO are not blameless for the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas,” Goodlette wrote in a report summarizing his recommendations to the Florida Senate.
“I agree with the MSD Commission that mistakes were made and areas should be improved. That said, the evidence offered has not demonstrated that Sheriff Israel should be removed from office based on this incident. While the Governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures, or trainings on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards.”
Goodlette was appointed by Senate President Bill Galvano to preside over hearings to offer a recommendation to the Senate on whether to reinstate Israel or fire him for good.
DeSantis released a statement Wednesday afternoon pushing members of the Senate to reject Goodlette’s findings.
“The victims with families impacted by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deserve justice and accountability,” DeSantis said.
“I disagree with the analysis contained in the non-binding recommendation; the Senators will render their own independent judgment on Scott Israel. Floridians were appalled by Scott Israel’s repeated failures and expect their Senators will provide the accountability that the Parkland families have sought for the past year and a half.”
DeSantis accused Israel of “incompetence” and “neglect of duty” in deciding to remove him from the Sheriff’s role back in January.
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.
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.
After hearing testimony from Israel and others back in June, Goodlette now says Israel was improperly removed and should get his job back.
Goodlette’s recommendation to reinstate Israel stems from a main finding that DeSantis did not prove the allegations set forth in his Executive Order giving cause for Israel’s suspension.
After the Stoneman Douglas shooting, Israel received heavy criticism regarding Deputy Peterson’s failure to enter the school and confront the shooter.
DeSantis connected Israel to that incident by arguing Peterson was not properly trained by Israel’s BSO. Indeed, several parents of victims of that shooting have made the same case is supporting Israel’s removal.
Goodlette also referenced six other BSO deputies who “did not display urgency” after arriving “while gunfire was still audible.”
But Goodlette argues neither Peterson’s failures nor the MSD Commission’s recommendations are enough to support ousting Israel.
“I have no trouble concluding these deputies neglected their duty during the Stoneman Douglas shooting and bear varying degrees of culpability,” Goodlette wrote.
“To be sure, Sheriff Israel bears ultimate responsibility for the neglect of his deputies. But it is impractical to suggest that he can face removal from office based on the conduct of a subordinate that was never authorized, sanctioned, or ratified.”
The Special Master argued removing Israel for these deputies’ failures “would establish an unworkable precedent. 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.”
Instead, Goodlette said the evidence “suggests that the Stoneman Douglas shooting was a culmination of individual failures.” He singled out Peterson for criticism but did not find overall failings within BSO that were severe enough to warrant removing Israel.
Goodlette offered similar arguments regarding the shooting at Fort Lauderdale Airport.
“The evidence is uncontroverted that the Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting occurred suddenly and without notice,” reads one section of Goodlette’s report.
While Goodlette did not rely on Israel’s assertions that BSO’s response should be considered a model for other law enforcement agencies, he nonetheless says the Governor did not prove his case.
“My finding here is simply that the Governor did not meet his burden of proving Sheriff Israel neglected his duties or was incompetent.”
The Senate has final say on suspensions issued by the Governor. Wednesday, the Senate announced a Special Session would be held from Oct. 21 to 25 to consider the findings of Goodlette’s report.
Israel had already filed to run for reelection in 2020 in the event the Senate decided not to reinstate him. His role has been taken over by current Sheriff Gregory Tony, who was appointed by DeSantis after Israel’s suspension.
Galvano released a statement to Senators Wednesday ahead of the planned October Special Session.
“Senate standards and precedent require that each Senator must be convinced, in her or his own conscience, that the evidence is sufficient to remove a person charged with a public trust,” Galvano wrote.
“Therefore, I encourage each Senator to review all of the evidence, the arguments put forth by counsel for both parties, the Special Master’s advisory report, the recommendation of the Rules Committee and debate on the floor, and draw conclusions individually.”