The Florida Senate given a political success to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday, as the room endorsed the suspension of a county sheriff that the Republican governor said bungled the response to last year’s mass shooting Parkland that murdered 17 individuals.
The 25-15 vote for elimination was no surprise at the Republican-dominated Senate, believing the Rules Committee two days before had sided with the governor’s decision to oust Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
With the catastrophe framing the discussion and emotions occasionally fraying, alliances exceeded party allegiances, with a few Democrats signaling during the discussion their support for eliminating Israel. In the long run, three Democrats voted for elimination, while one Republican sided with the now-former sheriff.
Some senators, such as Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat, relied upon the rawness of this tragedy in weighing their choice.
Eliminating an elected official from office was a challenging choice, “but there are times when someone should not have that job,” Taddeo said following the vote.
“Seventeen people died. This is different,” she explained. “To put that aside … I couldn’t do it.”
Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died in the shooting, watched by the Senate gallery as lawmakers debated the issue. Subsequently, she said she took another step toward closing.
“There is finally accountability for the many failures. His incompetency as sheriff led to the death of my daughter Alyssa and 16 others,” she explained.
On Feb. 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and murdered 15 students and two staffers.
A former pupil, Nikolas Cruz, was arrested shortly after the shootings and faces 17 counts of first-degree murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder.
During a court hearing on the same day the state Senate believed Israel’s dismissal, a Florida judge said she planned to go forward with a trial early next year, with jury selection set to start Jan. 27.
Israel, who was elected as Broward County sheriff in 2012, has pledged to run for his old job in next year’s election. DeSantis has said he wouldn’t seek to eliminate Israel again, if the lawman win the confidence of Broward voters.
“It’s not going to be something that will matter to me either way,” DeSantis said Tuesday.
In a statement released by his office following the vote, DeSantis he expected “the outcome provides some measure of relief to the Parkland families that have been doggedly pursuing accountability.”
The senate’s decision to strip Israel of his job came despite the recommendation by an investigator appointed by the room that the sheriff be reinstated.
Israel’s supporters said his elimination would embolden DeSantis and future governors in eliminating other elected officials for political reasons.
Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican and former president of the Florida Senate, made an impassioned plea to reinstate Israel, stating that removing him would be “anti-law enforcement.”
“When we go home and jump into a selfie with our sheriff — because I know how good that looks on our campaign pieces — make sure he knows what we did today,” Lee stated.
Senate particular master Dudley Goodlette said there was no evidence presented to indicate Israel’s policies or his training of deputies were inconsistent with Florida standards, also attributed deaths from the shooting to “individual failures,” particularly on the part of the school resource officer on duty who had neglected to put in a school building and face the shooter.
During his bid for governor, DeSantis partly campaigned on eliminating Israel from his article in Broward County, a Democratic stronghold. Days after taking office, DeSantis used his authority as the governor to eliminate the lawman after deeming him incompetent in his department’s Parkland response.
DeSantis was also critical of Israel’s handling of the 2017 shootings that killed five people at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
Following the vote, some senators said they would pursue a review of the governor’s ability to remove elected officials from office.
However, Senate President Bill Galvano didn’t appear keen to do that.
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