MIAMI (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled against a sheriff who fought his removal from office after the governor claimed he failed to prevent last year’s Parkland school shooting.
Florida’s highest court agreed that Gov. Ron DeSantis was within his authority to suspend Scott Israel as Broward County sheriff earlier this year. The justices noted that under the Florida Constitution, the state Senate is responsible for deciding whether the removal should be permanent.
“Today’s Florida Supreme Court opinion leaves no doubt of my authority as governor to suspend a government official for neglect of duty and incompetence,” DeSantis said in a prepared statement. “Scott Israel failed in his duties to protect the families and students of Broward County, and the time for delay tactics is at an end. I look forward to the Florida Senate resuming the process of formal removal.”
Senate leaders previously decided to first let the case go through the courts. Senate President Bill Galvano had appointed a special master to preside over a suspension hearing earlier this year. The special master announced Tuesday that a hearing has been scheduled for May 28.
DeSantis suspended Israel from his elected position in January and appointed an acting sheriff. Besides blaming Israel for allowing the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 people dead, DeSantis has also criticized Israel’s leadership during a mass shooting at the Fort Lauderdale Airport in early 2017.
Israel has said DeSantis overstepped his constitutional authority and interfered with the public’s right to elect their sheriff.
Israel’s attorney Ben Kuehne said in a prepared statement Tuesday that Israel remains confident he engaged in no neglect of duty and fully intends to challenge his suspension in the Florida Senate.
“With today’s ruling, local elected officials now need to be aware of the potential for governor overreach when discharging their duties,” Kuehne said. “Political considerations that were never before a basis for suspension may now be a constitutional reality in Florida.”
Kuehne has previously said DeSantis, a Republican, removed Israel, a Democrat, from office for political and partisan reasons. Calls for Israel’s ouster began shortly after the shooting when it was revealed that the deputy assigned to guard the school, Scot Peterson, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter, but took cover outside.
The heat increased after it was learned the sheriff’s office received and disregarded a call in 2016 and another in 2017 warning that suspect Nikolas Cruz, now 20, was a potential school shooter. Deputies also had about 20 contacts with Cruz as a juvenile — mostly over arguments with his now-deceased mother.
Israel has said none of those contacts warranted an arrest. Law enforcement members of the state commission investigating the shooting have agreed with that conclusion.
Cruz remains jailed, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.