Israel testifies in Florida Senate hearing, calls suspension purely political

Suspended Broward County sheriff seeks to reclaim job

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is fighting for his job back before the Florida Senate.

Israel testified Tuesday during his Senate hearing in Tallahassee.

Dudley Goodlette, special master appointed by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is presiding over the three-day hearing.

Citing "neglect of duty and incompetence" in the aftermath of two mass shootings in as many years, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Israel, who is a Democrat, shortly after taking office in January. He appointed former Coral Springs police Sgt. Gregory Tony to the position.

Israel's attorneys argued that the Republican governor's move was purely political.

"The investigations, they hadn't even commenced, and I hear a candidate for governor saying, 'I'll suspend that guy,'" Israel said.

Israel told Goodlette that DeSantis made good on a campaign promise to suspend him.

"To this day, I've never met or had a conversation with Gov. DeSantis," Israel said, adding that the governor "didn't even think it was important enough for me to fly to Tallahassee."

The Florida Supreme Court has already ruled that DeSantis acted within his authority to suspend Israel.

In his opening statements, DeSantis' attorney, Nicholas Primrose, framed his case that Israel was responsible for the actions and inactions of his deputies during the mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2017 and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland the next year.

Israel's attorney, Ben Kuehne, made his opening statements without reading or taking his eyes off Goodlette, calling the DeSantis-led charge to suspend Israel a "brutal political ploy designed to obtain his election and fulfill his promise" to the National Rifle Association.

Kuehne told Goodlette that former Gov. Rick Scott didn't suspend Israel after the Parkland school shooting, instead ordering the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct an independent review and establishing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. He said neither made recommendations to remove Israel as sheriff.

Primrose did not call any witnesses, but Kuehne called upon current and former Broward Sheriff's Office deputies to testify on Israel's behalf.

The first witness was Jack Dale, a retired Fort Lauerdale police officer who joined the BSO under Israel and left after the sheriff was suspended. He testified that the BSO has been a national model for training curriculum and policy.

Veteran BSO homicide Detective John Curcio was the next to testify. He was one of the first to question then-Parkland school resource Deputy Scot Peterson's account of events during the massacre.

Curcio weighed in on Israel's word change in a BSO active-shooter policy for deputies from "shall go in" to "may go in."  

"When you review the statements of the deputies who went in, (they) gave very specific reasons as to why they went in that building and it had nothing to do with 'may' or 'shall,'" he said.

DeSantis released a statement Tuesday, saying it was "a shame" Israel is still fighting the reasons for his dismissal when his wrongdoings as sheriff are so clear. 

The hearing continues Wednesday. 

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