TALLAHASSEE, FL — A Florida Senate special master has recommended that former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who was removed from his elected position in the aftermath of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas mass shooting and the 2017 mass shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport, be reinstated, saying that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has not proven his case against the embattled sheriff.
“While the governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures or trainings on active shooter situations were inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards,” penned J. Dudley Goodlette in his 34-page report dated Tuesday but made public Wednesday.
Three days after taking office in January, Florida’s new Republican governor suspended Israel amid cheers over his handling of the horrific Valentine’s Day mass shooting at the Parkland school that claimed the lives of 17 students and faculty as well as his handling of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting in which five people were killed.
“The Rule of Law has prevailed,” said Israel in a statement. “I humbly ask the Florida Senate to approve my reinstatement, so I can continue to serve all Broward County as the people’s elected Sheriff.”
Israel later told reporters that the recommendation was a victory for voters.
“It’s really never been about me,” he asserted. “I think the people of Broward County, the voters, are vindicated and I’m just humbled. I just want to get back to doing the job I was elected to do. I want to go back into the building and I want to continue to serve as sheriff.”
With respect to the airport shooting, the Florida Senate special master noted that the governor attempted to downplay the actions of the deputy who apprehended the suspected shooter.
“For instance, the governor’s proposed final order remarks that the shooter had run out of ammunition by the time Deputy Madrigal arrived and he did not ‘fire a single round of ammunition,” the special master stated. “I can understand the governor’s zealous advocacy against Sheriff Israel, but the actions of Deputy Madrigal were unassailably courageous. Without concern for his personal safety, Deputy Madrigal immediately responded to the gunfire and ran towards the danger.”
He said the fact that the deputy did not discharge his weapon is not a badge of dishonor, but rather a “testament to his training and courage to recognize that the situation was already defused … It is likely that more lives would have been lost but for his courage.”
In recommending Israel’s reinstatement, Goodlette also recommended that the Florida Senate deny Israel’s request for attorney’s fees and costs.
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“Despite Sheriff Israel’s suggestion otherwise, this was not a situation of executive overreach,” he explained. “There was certainly evidence to support a prima facie case that he neglected the duties of his office. In my view, this weighs against making taxpayers shoulder the burden of Sheriff Israel’s defense.”
DeSantis named former Coral Springs police sergeant Gregory Tony to fill Israel’s post. Tony, a former college football player with Florida State University in Florida, became Broward’s first black sheriff.
Reacting to Wednesday’s report, DeSantis said Floridians were appalled by Israel’s repeated failures and expect their state senators to provide the accountability that Parkland families have been seeking since the tragedy. 25 Reasons Florida Governor Gave For Suspending Broward Sheriff
“I disagree with the analysis contained in the non-binding recommendation; the senators will render their own independent judgement on Scott Israel,” said the governor.
Five key members of the sheriff’s office handed in their resignations or retirements shortly before the governor announced Israel’s suspension. Some of the separation forms blamed the governor’s action, according to copies reviewed by Patch.
Israel’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, said he is optimistic that the Florida Senate will allow the former sheriff to resume his duties.
“This is not a time for politics, but for doing the right thing in support of real evidence and the law,” said Kuehne. “Reinstatement by the Florida Senate will validate Sheriff Israel’s lifelong focus of protecting the community as a sworn law enforcement officer.”
Parents of the Parkland victims praised DeSantis’ action in suspending Israel at the time.
“My daughter would have lived if somebody could have just given her one more second,” a father of one of the victims told reporters.
“I never did anything political before my daughter was murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was killed in the tragedy. “Our community and our kids will be much safer now that Sheriff Israel is out of office.”
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission unanimously approved a 446-page report on the school shooting that was critical of the Broward County sheriff’s deputies who failed to confront the shooter and of Israel, whose office did not at the time have a policy requiring them to rush the three-story freshman building where the shooting happened.
Prior to being suspended, Israel issued new guidance that requires Broward Sheriff’s deputies to “eliminate the threat” before all else when they arrive at the scene of an active shooter.