Florida’s state Senate voted Wednesday to permanently remove Broward County’s sheriff after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) suspended him in response to two mass shootings.
The state Senate voted mostly along party lines, 25-15, to finalize the Republican governor’s January executive order suspending Scott Israel as sheriff. Most Republicans voted to suspend Israel, while most Democrats sided with the Democratic sheriff, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
DeSantis said in January that Israel demonstrated “repeated incompetence and neglect of duty,” specifically in regard to the January 2017 Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting that left five dead and the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland.
Under Florida law, the governor can suspend elected officials for criminal activity, misfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty, and DeSantis accused Israel of failing to protect victims in both shootings.
All five Broward County senators voted to reinstate Israel despite the wishes of Parkland parents, some of whom were in the room for the vote, the Sentinel reported.
Florida law allows the governor to suspend a sheriff, but the state Senate has the authority to decide if the decision is qualified and to finalize it. Some lawmakers voiced concern about the kind of precedent state lawmakers would set by removing an elected local official, recommending instead that the decision be left to county voters.
“We are a country founded on rule of law. We cannot base our decision on emotion,” state Sen. Gary Farmer (D) said, according to the Sentinel. Israel “soiled his own performance. I am not going to defend his performance. … But again, that is not a sufficient reason to ignore the will of Broward County voters and remove him from office.”
But those who wanted Israel out of office said that it’s a matter of making sure the sheriff is accountable for his alleged neglect of duty.
“Mr. Israel’s stunning callousness in some of his statements” after the Parkland shooting, as well as his refusal to be accountable “only made a horrible and tragic situation worse and that’s part of leadership too,” state Sen. Rob Bradley (R) said, the Sentinel reported. “Today is the day for accountability.”
“I hope the outcome provides some measure of relief to the Parkland families that have been doggedly pursuing accountability,” DeSantis said in a statement.
Israel has denied any wrongdoing and previously argued that DeSantis had suspended him for political reasons. He also filed a lawsuit arguing that the governor had overstepped his authority, but a judge upheld DeSantis’ decision. Israel attempted to appeal the suspension in the state Senate but was unsuccessful.
In addition to the now-ousted sheriff, a school resource officer faced nationwide backlash for his response to the Parkland shooting. Deputy Scot Peterson resigned from his post after video of the massacre showed his inaction. He currently faces charges of culpable negligence, perjury and felony neglect of a child.
Israel was elected sheriff in 2012 and 2016 and has said he intends to run again in 2020. A spokeswoman for DeSantis told CNN that the governor will not suspend Israel for “previous actions of neglect of duty and incompetence” if he wins reelection.