Broward County sheriff out of public eye while BSO missteps mount in Parkland

Scott Israel made apparent false claim in letter to Gov. Rick Scott

By Bob Norman - Investigative Reporter

PARKLAND, Fla. - After the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel didn't shy away from cameras, leading news conference after news conference and even going on national television for a CNN town hall meeting on gun control. 

But as Israel played to the nation, it remained a secret that his own deputies failed to enter the school to stop shooter Nikolas Cruz.

Details were also missing on the agency's lack of follow-up to disturbing complaints about Cruz made to BSO prior to the shooting that portended the tragedy to come. 

When that information came out late last month, outrage and scorn was aimed at Israel, and the sheriff has dodged the media since, even as Parkland remains on edge after the shooter's brother was able to bypass deputies to trespass at Douglas and another deputy, Moises Carotti, was allegedly found sleeping on duty there this week.

The safety concerns of the community created such a crisis of confidence that Gov. Rick Scott is placing Florida Highway Patrol troopers at the school and Broward Commissioner Michael Udine is calling for Israel to put his command staff in Parkland to try to figure out what is going wrong with the BSO there. 

BSO Deputy Jeff Bell, the union chief, said Israel needs to own his mistakes or risk losing the agency altogether. 

"As a leader of an agency, you always take responsibility for the good and the bad," Bell said, adding that the rank-and-file is considering a no-confidence vote against the sheriff. 

Bell pointed out that Israel did himself no good in one of his last interviews on CNN, when he not only refused to take responsibility for BSO's failures, but also patted himself on the back, comparing himself to a general and claiming he's given the agency "amazing leadership." 

"He took a tremendous beating from the public from that," Bell said. 

During that same interview, Israel claimed that only one deputy, the school resource officer, Scot Peterson, was at the school while bullets were flying. But records since released by BSO prove that at least three other deputies were there, two of them reporting on radio transmissions that they were hearing the shots.

More significantly, Israel also made that same apparently false claim in a letter to Scott, writing in all bold, "Only one law enforcement officer was ever on the campus -- at any time -- during the attack." 

"Certainly, he had some bad information that day," Bell said. 

Israel made the errant claim in response to State Rep. Bill Hager's allegations in a letter calling for Scott to remove Israel from office for neglect of duty and incompetence.

A total of 73 state representatives, all Republican, also called for Israel's ouster in another letter written by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran. 

BSO sources said Israel is saying behind the scenes that he's not going anywhere and even if Scott removes him from office, he'll run again in 2020.

"To gain that confidence back, you have to admit that there have been faults," Bell said. 

But Bell said it's too late for an apology from Israel at this point.

So can Israel ever gain back the trust of the public and his own deputies? 

"Time will tell," Bell said. "We'll see how this wound heals." 

Copyright 2018 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.