By Anthony Man Sun Sentinel
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla. — Suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said Thursday that he and his family were devastated by the mass slayings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School — and that the horrific tragedy didn’t justify his removal from office, an action he derided as a political maneuver by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Israel also said he’s intent on getting his badge back, from the Florida Senate, through the courts, or as a candidate in the 2020 election. He said he is “100 percent” certain he’ll be on the ballot as a candidate for the job, regardless of whether he’s reinstated before then.
Appearing before a friendly audience of about 60 people at the Democratic Club at Century Village in Pembroke Pines, Israel said he should be judged on the totality of his career, not because of what happened at Stoneman Douglas on Feb. 14 and not his disastrous appearance on CNN 11 days after the shooting.
“Who here would want to be judged for a lifetime of work, who here would want to be judged by one horrific incident or one bad day in your life?” he said. “Don’t you want to be judged — as people and Americans — by the totality of what you’ve done, by a life’s work?”
Israel said DeSantis was not justified in suspending him from office over his agency’s response to the massacre in which 17 people were killed and 17 wounded.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m not a perfect person. I’m not a perfect sheriff. But I was devastated (by the shooting). I’m a good dad, I’m a good husband, and I’m a good sheriff, and I want to get back in,” he said. “I worked hard as the sheriff. I have been honorable as the sheriff. This is not right.”
In his Jan. 11 order suspending Israel from the office he was first elected to in 2012, DeSantis cited incompetence and neglect of duty and said Israel “egregiously failed in his duties” by not properly training deputies and not maintaining “a culture of vigilance and thoroughness,” among other problems.
Israel said Thursday that he takes “complete responsibly” for the actions of the people in the agency. “What we don’t take responsibility for is one killing or one person being shot. That is the responsibility of a monstrous, evil killer, nobody else, just him. He picked up the gun. He programmed himself to destroy families, to destroy lives.”
Israel acknowledged his poor performance during the infamous CNN interview Feb. 25, when he proclaimed, “I have given amazing leadership to this agency.”
“You’ve heard me speak many times. I’m a good public speaker. I’m not Barack Obama, but then who is?” Israel said Thursday. “That day, I was godawful.
“It wasn’t the statement I wanted to make,” he said, expressing a desire for a do-over in which he’d have praised everyone at the agency for years of work.
He said he didn’t want to make excuses, then explained he was exhausted the Sunday of the interview, having been up until 4:30 a.m. on agency business and getting up at 6 a.m. to go to the interview.
At the same time, his family was in turmoil. “It was a devastating time for us — not as devastating of course as for the families who lost loved ones,” Israel said. “It was a catastrophic time for us.”
He and his family had lived in Parkland for 20 years and could see Stoneman Douglas from his backyard. His children attended school there. “My wife was beyond devastation,” he said.
He excoriated DeSantis, who as a candidate for governor in the weeks after the shooting said that he would have suspended Israel if he had already been governor.
Three days after DeSantis took office in January “he made good on a political promise. My suspension is political. It’s anti-American. It’s anti-democratic. It’s unacceptable. You don’t do that to people,” Israel said. “Shame on him for that, and I just hope and pray the truth will come out.”
Had there been a legitimate cause to suspend him, Israel said it would have been done by the previous governor, Rick Scott, now a U.S. senator. “(Scott) wasn’t asleep at the wheel. He knew what was going on.” Scott, like DeSantis, is a Republican.
He told the audience he was deprived of his ability to earn a living by the suspension, which ended his paycheck. Later, in a brief interview, he said he isn’t working but has an annual pension between $72,000 and $73,000 a year from his law enforcement career before becoming sheriff.
Ryan Petty, whose Alaina was one of the 17 people killed in the massacre, was one of several relatives — of both political parties — of people killed at Stoneman Douglas who appeared with DeSantis when he announced Israel’s suspension.
He said Thursday that removing Israel wasn’t at all political.
“It is the former sheriff that is making this about politics and he is doing that because he wants the community to overlook his failures and make himself out to be the victim here,” Petty said in a telephone interview.
“We’d all like to be judged on the totality of our careers, but oftentimes we’re judged based on the moments that really matter,” he said.
Israel said he’s been visiting various Democratic clubs since DeSantis suspended him. On Thursday, he spoke for about half an hour, without notes. Israel stepped away from the lectern, declining the use of a microphone.
He said he’d fight the suspension in the Florida Senate, which is charged with reviewing removals by the governor, but he didn’t express hope for his chances in the Republican-controlled body.
He said he’d be going to court “very soon” about the issue, but said he didn’t want to discuss strategy until then.
Sophie Bock, president of the Century Village-Pembroke Pines Democratic Club, welcomed Israel to the front of the room with a hug and a kiss. Afterward, she said “we’d like to have him reinstated because of all the good things he’s done.”
Pearl Berman, a Century Village resident, said Israel made a good case for himself. “He didn’t deserve what happened to him,” she said.
©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)