BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony held a news conference Tuesday morning regarding the controversy over the precautions that are being taken for deputies and dispatchers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Tony lashed out at union President Jeff Bell, disputing Bells’ claims that he ignored requests by deputies for more personal protective equipment.
“It has impacted the confidence in the community as to whether or not we are prepared. It has also impacted the nature of the camaraderie within this agency, and this has been sparked off by a member who is supposed to represent the very best of our organization, which is our law enforcement personnel, who put their lives on the frontline,” Tony said.
He also accused Bell of exploiting Deputy Shannon Bennett’s death to advance his political agenda.
“I have a rogue employee who decides to politicize and capitalize on a moment when we lost one of our own," Tony said. "It’s not only dishonorable, it’s unnecessary.”
Bell told Local 10 News reporter Ian Margol that Tony’s statement couldn’t be farther from the truth.
“In order to politicize something there has to be a gain in return,” Bell said. “Nobody in this union or in the union’s office has any aspirations or any intent to run for any political office. If anything, we’re turned off by politics because of what we see in Broward County. So there’s nothing to gain by talking about it after a deputy’s passing. And I don’t even think the sheriff realizes that Deputy Bennett -- even though he’s one of our fellow brothers in law enforcement and officers we constantly worked with on a daily basis -- he wasn’t even a union member, so it’s not even as if the union is attacking the sheriff or even possibly blaming him for the death, which is what we’re not doing. He’s not responsible for it.”
Local 10 News has learned that more than 500 BSO employees have been checked for COVID-19, with 36 people testing positive.
An additional 300 employees are being monitored for coronavirus and 210 have been tested and since returned to work.
The sheriff said five inmates have also tested for the virus and all in-person visitations have ended and have moved to video visitation.
A number of the confirmed employee cases come from BSO’s dispatch centers, with some of those employees now being treated at the hospital.
“I only know of a couple that are in serious condition -- that are in the hospital and are pretty much fighting for their lives,” said Sgt. Anthony Marciano, Director of the Federation of Public Employees union.
There has been a lot of back and forth about what BSO does and doesn’t have in terms of personal protective equipment.
“We’ve gone across the entire channel, from gloves to hand sanitizers to caps to gowns to goggles, anything that we can actually get our hands on, I’ve been buying it,” Tony previously said.
The sheriff also said they’ve been working to buy more PPE but right now things are overpriced and out of stock. Still, he said they’re trying to get more.
But Bell, who is president of the union that represents thousands of deputies working at BSO, claims the sheriff is stretching the truth.
“We know the sheriff’s office is saying everything is fine, but when I talk to the deputies, and they email the union, they say everything is not fine,” Bell said. “There’s a lot of conflicting information.”
Bell said healthy deputies are in fear they could be infected too.
“The amount of the N95 masks are still short. Some deputies still only have one mask,” he said.
Tony aimed to set the record straight Tuesday, saying his department has personal protective equipment for all employees.
“From the time-frame of Feb. 1 to April 6, we have dispersed over 25,263 N95 masks to our first responders,” he said.
According to the sheriff, 44,773 surgical masks were also dispersed, as well as more than 4,100 bottles of hand sanitizer.
The sheriff said his department has spent more than $1.3 million to get the equipment needed to face this crisis and said he’ll spend every dime the department has if it will keep his deputies and the community safe.
“Equipment would be considered sanitizer, gloves and N95 masks, but there is a difference when you’re handing out full PPE kits where you’re going to have eyeglass protection, a face mask, a body gown, the alcohol, gloves, sanitizer -- everything comes in one package,” Bell said.