Former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel spoke on his suspension as a guest speaker at a Dolphin Democrats membership meeting Wednesday night at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors.
“Tonight unfortunately and sadly I come to you with a heavy heart, and you’re here with a heavy heart. [At] Stoneman Douglas a year ago tomorrow we lost 17 people, 14 children,” Israel said. “I’ve been overwhelmed, absolutely overwhelmed, with shock and tremendous grief.”
Israel said he spent the year traveling and speaking to the parents of Parkland students, and it became apparent that many of the children were suffering from post-traumatic stress, and anxiety. “It was the most horrific thing imaginable”.
He also revealed he knew Aaron Feis, the late football coach who died trying to shield students from gunfire, and that he had coached Israel’s children.
“Tonight, tomorrow, where we memorialize and we think about where we were a year today, we think about what we could do even in our small little worlds to prevent these mass tragedies from happening,” Israel said. “See something say something, communicate with law enforcement. [If you] see someone behaving in a way that they've never behaved before, make sure law enforcement knows about it.”
Just three days after being sworn into office, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the beleaguered sheriff following 10 months of intense national attention garnered by the mass-shooting of 17 staff and students in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland.
“The massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff’s department,” DeSantis said of the Democratic former sheriff.
Israel was replaced with former Coral Springs Police Sgt. Gregory Tony, who has a background in active-shooter training.
At the statewide public safety commission last November, Israel defended his decision before the shooting to revise his office’s active shooter policy, from stipulating that officers "shall" enter an area to save lives, to officers "may", instead.
"The reason I inserted 'may' and believe wholeheartedly in that word [is] because I want an effective, tactical response - not a suicide response," Israel told commission chair, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.
A federal judge in Florida ruled that the Broward County schools and the county sheriff’s office had no legal duty to protect students during the shooting, after the father of one of the victims filed a lawsuit against Deputy Scot Peterson, the school’s resource officer under Israel, who never entered the building.
Ed Leuchs, a member of the Dolphin Democrats, the LGBT democratic group of Broward County, asked Israel Wednesday about the policy revision, claiming it “allowed the members of your staff who are on campus to do what I felt was cowardly, let those children be massacred and not even go into the school.”
“Partially, certainly as far as Deputy Peterson” Israel said, addressing Leuch’s statement about inaction. “But I will say this, there was no training issue, no policy issue, no ‘word’ issue - this was about a deputy who chose not to go in, and you cannot evaluate courage.”
When the member reiterated it was eight of his officers under scrutiny total, Israel said “we don’t know what they knew,” and that their actions were still under internal affairs investigation.
“One year before this mass killing at [Marjory] Stoneman Douglas, we had a mass killing at Fort Lauderdale International Airport, [and there was] a hero, a brown shirt, wearing the same uniform as Peterson, same sheriff, same policies,” Israel went on to say.
“[Deputy Jesse Madrigal] was at the airport, heard gunshots, and ran towards the gunshots as thousands - not hundreds - but as thousands of people ran in opposite directions. Jesse took the killer into custody in 72 seconds,” Israel said, noting Madrigal was awarded Deputy of The Year by the Florida Sheriff’s Association for his actions. “Some people are going to go in and some people aren't.”
Israel said he would return to speak about every aspect of his suspension; “I come here tonight as your suspended Sheriff. I can’t even put into words how unjust that is. [...] This is absolutely, absolutely a political move - nothing more, nothing less.”