Almost nine months later, though, an independent arbitrator has now said that Israel should be reinstated — in a major rebuke to DeSantis that drew an almost immediate reaction from the families of shooting victims.
Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed during the Parkland shooting, said he couldn’t believe it.
“He failed before that day, he failed during that day, and he clearly failed after that day,” Guttenberg told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “The idea he would even have a chance of stepping back into that seat is mind-boggling.”
The sheriff, though, said the ruling substantiates his insistence that he’s not at fault.
“I’m very humbled and very grateful to God for what happened today,” Israel said at a news conference Wednesday. “I’ve spent a lifetime in law enforcement. I just want to get back to doing what I was elected to do.”
The fight over Israel’s future has reopened deep wounds in South Florida over a mass shooting that sparked a national movement toward gun control.
Whether he gets to return, however, is now up to the Florida Senate. The chamber will hear from the arbitrator, lawyer Dudley Goodlette, in October and then decide if it should bring Israel back to his post atop the Broward County Sheriff’s Office or permanently remove him from office.
Israel, a Democrat first elected in 2012, had previously come under scrutiny for his office’s handling of a deadly 2017 shooting at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, when a passenger drew a gun from his luggage and began shooting randomly, killing five and wounding another six. That shooting, and the chaos that ensued, could have been avoided with better training, the governor said.
Less than a year later, a shooter opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17, as the deputy assigned to protect the school took cover away from the site of the shooting — and told other officers to keep away. A state commission later found “deep fault” with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, charging that deputies failed to engage the shooter or see the warning signs that he might attack.
As Israel emerged as a fierce advocate for gun control in the wake of the Parkland shooting, he also took on the task of defending himself: He praised his “amazing leadership” during the shooting — but also charged he was not responsible for the actions of individual deputies.
DeSantis had said while campaigning for governor in 2018 that Israel should be fired. Three days into office, flanked by relatives of Parkland victims, he delivered on his promise. Israel had “egregiously failed,” the newly elected governor said, blaming him for inadequate training and shoddy management.
Israel appealed to the state Senate, which appointed Goodlette.
In a 34-page report made public on Wednesday, the arbiter found the Stoneman Douglas shooting was a “culmination of individual failures,” and there was not enough evidence to fully prove DeSantis’s claims of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”
“Sheriff Israel and the BSO are not blameless for the tragedy at Stoneman Douglas,” Goodlette wrote. “That said, the evidence offered has not demonstrated that Sheriff Israel should be removed from office based on this incident.”
The agency’s active shooter policy, which did not mandate directly engaging with shooters, was not outside the norm for other Florida law enforcement agencies at the time, he said. Outside Broward County, other sheriffs had implemented similar training schedules.
Moreover, he wrote, permanently firing Israel would create an “unworkable precedent” that would allow the governor to remove anyone from office.
His report was quickly skewered by victims’ relatives.
“I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach,” said Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed in the 2018 shooting.
And Andrew Pollack, a strong DeSantis supporter whose daughter Meadow was also killed, wrote on Twitter that DeSantis “did the righteous thing firing the totally incompetent Scott Israel.”
The suspended sheriff “let kids get murdered,” Pollack said, and then lied about it.
In a statement to the Sun-Sentinel, DeSantis said he disagreed with Goodlette’s report — and hopes that the state Senate does too.
“The victims with families impacted by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deserve justice and accountability,” DeSantis said, later adding: “Floridians were appalled by Scott Israel’s repeated failures.”
Israel, however, who maintains that he has been scapegoated by the governor, said in a statement to the Palm Beach Post that “the rule of law has prevailed.”
Regardless of what the Florida Senate decides, the saga is not over yet. Both Israel, and Gregory Tony, the sheriff DeSantis picked to replace him, are expected to run for Broward County sheriff next year.