TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Senate began a special session Monday to decide whether it will reinstate a county sheriff suspended by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis over the handling of last year’s Parkland school shootings that killed 17 people.
For the Republican majority Senate, siding with DeSantis will mean going against the recommendation of an official appointed to investigate the suspension of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. It’s an awkward position, especially since the governor will have control of bills and budget items the lawmakers will eventually send his way during the 2020 legislative session.
Former State Rep. Dudley Goodlette was appointed by the Senate to make a recommendation on whether Israel should be permanently removed from his elected office.
“There was a case to be made, it just wasn’t made,” Goodlette told the Senate Rules Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full Senate on Wednesday.
Even before being elected in November, DeSantis was promising on the campaign trail that he would remove Israel. He did so as one of his first actions after taking office in January, accusing the sheriff of neglect of duty and incompetence in the way his department responded to the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“This is an extraordinary case,” said George Levesque, DeSantis’ lawyer told the committee. “The governor’s not out there willy-nilly suspending sheriffs because of the actions of deputies.”
Levesque said Israel should be held responsible for the three failures at his department: not appropriately investigating threats made by suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz before the massacre, deputies who didn’t rush into the school to confront Cruz during the shooting and not establishing an effective command base to respond to the shooting.
“These failures are properly and legally laid at the feet of Scott Israel,” Levesque said.
But Israel’s attorney said the governor’s office failed to prove that Israel showed incompetence.
He said DeSantis is required “to prove by facts — not suspicion, not innuendo, not belief — the basis for the suspension,” Benedict Kuehne. “The failure of the governor to prove the charges requires reinstatement.”
The committee met after the Senate briefly opened the special session. Senate President Bill Galvano was asked afterward if there was pressure on Republican senators to go along with the governor.
“I have faith in the senators that they’re going to rise to the occasion, look at everything and adhere to the standard, which is what, in their conscience, is best for the people of Florida,” Galvano replied.