Israel calls BSO active-shooter policy flap 'red herring' during hearing

Suspended Broward County sheriff seeks to reclaim job before special master

By Peter Burke - Managing Editor, Glenna Milberg - Reporter

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel continued testifying Wednesday during a Florida Senate hearing to get his job back.

Israel told a special master Wednesday in Tallahassee that his suspension by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis was politically motivated.

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

During his second day of testimony Wednesday, Israel defended his reasoning for a word change in a Broward Sheriff's Office active-shooter policy for deputies from "may" intervene to "shall" intervene and back again.

"Is there any part of that policy that led to or caused deputies as you understand the training to hesitate, to take no action, in the face of an active shooter?" Israel's attorney, Ben Kuehne, asked.

"Absolutely not," Israel answered.

Israel called the issue a "red herring."

"I've read hundreds of policies with 'may' and hundreds of policies with 'shall' and they say the same thing," Israel said. "The purposes of the policy is to give the officer discretion not to go into a suicide mission. If your child was inside a school, you'd want an officer to go in, but you want him to go in alive."

DeSantis' attorney, Nicholas Primrose, argued 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 last year.

"You could have required, not even just school resources officers, but any of the deputies in your agency to attend certain trainings more frequently," Primrose said.

"Right, but, I must say this, we were well within the industry standard of training," Israel said.

During the questioning by Primrose, the suspended sheriff showed flashes of frustration.

"You're asking a question based on what you know in 2019," Israel said. 

Primrose spent more than three hours cross-examining Israel.

"You do not believe, at all, that you neglected your duty or were incompetent," Primrose said.

"The answer to that question is, not only do I not believe it, I have not met one person, other than Gov. DeSantis, who does believe that," Israel said.

Dudley Goodlette, special master appointed by Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, presided over the two-day hearing.

Dudley Goodlette, special master appointed in the Florida Senate hearing for suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, listens to Israel's attorneys, June 19, 2019, in Tallahassee, Florida.

"There is no basis for the governor's decision and we expect the special master will identify that as well," Kuehne told reporters after the hearing.

Goodlette, a former state legislator, will make a recommendation to the full Senate on whether Israel should be reinstated. The timeline for the Senate to make that decision could stretch into the fall.

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