Final arguments presented to special master as Israel fights for job

Special master to recommend whether to uphold suspension

A special master will make a recommendation to Florida Senate President Bill Galvano whether to reinstate Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis in January.

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Will suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel get his job back?

The final arguments are officially filed, and now it is up to a state special master to recommend to the Florida Senate whether to uphold the suspension.

In one of his first acts as governor last January, Ron DeSantis suspended and replaced Israel, citing "incompetence" and "neglect of duty," blaming him for failures in law enforcement that led to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018 and the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. 

Israel appealed the suspension to the Florida Senate and testified at a two-day hearing in June in front of a special master appointed by the Senate president. Lawyers for both Israel and DeSantis have now filed their written closing arguments for that hearing, their final pitch to Special Master Dudley Goodlette, who will make his recommendation to Senate President Bill Galvano in advance of the full Senate decision. 

Dudley Goodlette, special master appointed in the Florida Senate hearing for suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, listens to Israel's attorneys, June 19, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

In both closing briefs, attorneys reiterated the cases they presented at the June hearing, to bolster their own recommendations to Goodlette. 

Israel's attorney, Benjamin Kuehne, recommended that Israel be reinstated with back pay and attorney's fees, arguing that the evidence did not show incompetence nor neglect of duty.

"Sheriff Israel ... implemented and followed best practices governing the hiring, training and supervision of law-enforcement personnel," Kuehne wrote. "The sheriff's policies, procedures and trainings concerning active shooter/killer situations and real-time scenarios are at least consistent with prevailing Florida law enforcement standards and, in many respects, exceeded those standards."

The brief outlines Israel's law enforcement history, proactive changes during his tenure at the Broward Sheriff's Office and, while it calls the sheriff ultimately responsible for the agency and its staff, insists he could not have foreseen or prevented the intentions of a mass shooter, nor decisions of his employees. Prominent in that argument is former Deputy Scot Peterson, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's on-campus resource officer who hid from the shooting rather than enter and engage.

Kuehne reiterates allegations that the governor suspended Israel, a Democrat, to fulfill a campaign promise.

The governor's attorney, Nicholas Primrose, outlined an opposing argument in his recommendation to uphold Israel's suspension.

"All hiring, firing, promoting, demoting, development of policies, training requirements and exercises were under his ultimate control and discretion," Primrose wrote. "The facts and evidence show that Scott Israel failed to provide appropriate department policies for responding to an active shooter situation, he failed to adequately and frequently train his deputies to respond to an active shooter situation, and he failed in his paramount statutory duty to be the conservator of the peace in Broward County. These are the grounds for his suspension."

With the closing recommendations in hand, Goodlette will make his recommend to Galvano whether to uphold the suspension or overturn it and reinstate Israel.   

The Senate's Rules Committee will be the first to consider the recommendation, likely next month, and then the full Senate will decide during session that begins in January.

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