Sheriff Scott Israel rejects calls to resign, promotes 'amazing leadership'

State Rep. Bill Hager writes letter to governor calling for sheriff's ouster

By Tim Swift - Local10.com Digital Editor, Roy Ramos - Reporter

PARKLAND, Fla. - Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is firing back after Florida House Republicans have called for him to be suspended from office for "incompetence and neglect of duty."

Israel appeared on CNN Sunday morning, saying he would not resign and promoted his "amazing leadership."

Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, sent a letter Saturday to Gov. Rick Scott requesting Israel's removal. On Sunday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and other House Republican asked Scott to suspend Israel.

"[The BSO's] failures to intervene regarding Nikolas Jacob Cruz in the years, months and days leading up to that shooting, are unacceptable and unforgivable," Corcoran wrote.

READ: Rep. Bill Hager's letter to Gov. Rick Scott
READ: Press release about letter -- Page 1 | Page 2

In response to Hager's charges, Israel sent a rebuttal letter to the governor, citing factual inaccuracies and unsupported gossip.

In his letter, the sheriff said he was "appalled that Rep. Hager felt a need to engage in disingenuous political grandstanding, perhaps in the hope he will garner some headlines, at the expense of the truth."

READ: Sheriff Scott Israel's letter to Gov. Rick Scott

Seventeen people were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14.

The call for Israel's removal comes after several missteps by law enforcement have been publicized in recent days:  

  • The FBI received a detailed warning about Cruz in January, but the information was not forwarded to the appropriate agents.
  • Israel said school resource officer Scot Peterson did not engage Cruz while the gunman was inside the school.
  • Israel said his office received at least 18 calls about Cruz in the past few years, but his encounters with deputies did not lead to an arrest or Cruz's weapons being confiscated.
  • Israel is also investigating charges by Coral Springs police officers that three Broward County Sheriff's Office deputies also stayed outside the school during the shooting. Israel told CNN that he could only confirm that Peterson outside the school during the shooting.

In a tense interview with CNN, Israel defended the Broward County Sheriff's Office. Anchor Jake Tapper grilled Israel about when the sheriff knew about Peterson's failure to engage and why his office ignored repeated warnings about Cruz.

"Are you really not taking any responsibly for the multiple red flags that were brought to the attention of the Broward Sheriff's Office about this shooter before the incident?" Tapper asked.

Israel said he could only take responsibly for what he knew about at the time. Israel said he exercised his "due diligence"  and given "amazing leadership."

"Amazing leadership?" Tapper asked incredulously.

"Yes," Israel said.

Hager, writing on Twitter, called for Scott to remove Israel from his post, citing gross incompetence and the need to modernize the law enforcement agencies to ensure a catastrophic breakdown in communication never happens again.

"The sheriff was fully aware of the threat this individual presented to his community and chose to ignore it," Hager said in his letter.

Several prominent national conservatives have singled out Israel for failing to prevent the shooting.

"The Broward County sheriff, in front of a nationwide audience on CNN, lectured the NRA and millions of law-abiding gun owners when all along it was his department that did nothing," said Rep. Mark Meadows, the head of the influential House Freedom Caucus. "Astounding. We need answers."

Republican Nicolas Kimaz -- who is running to unseat Rep. Ted Deutch, a Boca Raton Democrat -- also held a protest Saturday, calling for Israel to step down. About a dozen people gathered in Coral Springs, holding signs reading "Fire Scott Israel."

"The Sheriff's Office knew about Cruz being a threat to the school and to others, and did nothing," Kimaz said. "And now we find out there were four deputies who stood outside while 17 of our beautiful children were murdered."

Scott has not yet responded to the letters.

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