Sheriff suspends union president accusing him of politicizing coronavirus

Division of Internal Affairs cites allegations against Deputy Jeff Bell

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After a mounting public dispute over safety protocols, BSO Deputies Association, IUPA President Jeff Bell was suspended from the force on Friday.

Earlier in the week, Bell was vocal about Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony and his handling during the coronavirus crisis of doing enough to protect his deputies.

Tony held a news conference Tuesday morning and lashed out at Bell saying, “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."

He also accused Bell of exploiting Deputy Shannon Bennett’s death, who died on Friday, April 3, to advance Bell’s own 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 confirmed to Local 10 Friday that he has been suspended. He said he could not discuss the case and referred questions to his lawyer, Eric T. Schwartzreich.

Schwartzreich’s statement: “Jeff Bell was suspended with pay because he was trying to make sure our deputies have personal protection equipment. To suspend someone when they are looking out for first responders is against the law, reprehensible and actionable. Jeff was exercising his first amendment rights as a whistleblower. He was acting in the best interest of his deputies, first responders and the community as a whole.”

A statement from the BSO Sheriff’s office from Tony said: “Deputy Bell is currently the subject of an internal affairs investigation related to violations of BSO policies and procedures. He will be afforded all protections and due process rights afforded under the law and consistent with BSO policies. Otherwise, the agency will not comment on pending internal affairs investigation.”

The notice to Deputy Bell from the Sheriff’s Office Division of Internal Affairs regarding the suspension with pay contains citations from the Sheriff’s Policy Manual (SPM):

SPM 2.5.2. Truthfulness

SPM 2.3.3. Corrupt Practices

SPM 2.18 Employee Statements

SPM 2.3 Conduct Unbecoming an Employee

SPM 1.11.8 Discretion

(The video below is an interview with Bell from Tuesday with Local 10′s Ian Margol.)

Jeff Bell, the president of the BSO Deputies Association, spoke to Local 10 News reporter Ian Margol on Tuesday regarding the controversy surrounding the sheriff’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and how he is protecting his employees.

On Friday morning, Tony gave the media a tour on Friday of BSO’s emergency operations center, to show what’s being done to protect deputies and dispatchers.

“This is a quick reminder to the community that we are constantly ahead of the curve to make sure we procure the proper equipment and that we have a plan in place to disperse it out,” said Tony on Friday.

Officers did line up to pick up a shipment of N95 masks.

Bell said earlier in the week, “If you look at 5,500 employees with 25,000 N95 masks, that means you are looking at four to five masks per person in the agency since February. Is that enough masks in your mind?”

Tony addressed those comments on Friday. “I will tell you that there have been some comments made about whether or not we are prepared from the union president but when you look collectively at what we’ve bee able to disperse. The other day we had already pushed out 25,000 high-quality N95 masks in conjunction with 45,000 surgical masks. It’s my goal and our command staff’s goal to not become complacent. We spent over $1.3 million dollars and I’m willing to spend another 10 if that’s necessary.”

[Related: Tensions rise between Broward Sheriff and union president.]

About the Authors:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.

Michelle F. Solomon is the podcast producer/reporter/host of Local 10's original, true-crime podcast The Florida Files and a digital journalist for Local