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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Suspends Broward County Sheriff From Elected Office

Jan 11, 2019
Originally published on January 11, 2019 5:29 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The Florida sheriff whose department was widely criticized for its handling of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year has been suspended. Seventeen people died in the shooting in Broward County. Florida's new governor, Ron DeSantis, said the change was needed to hold government officials accountable.

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RON DESANTIS: The massacre might never have happened had Brower had better leadership in the sheriff's department. The Parkland families, the people of Broward and the broader Florida community want accountability, but I think just as important - or more important - they want the problems fixed going forward.

SHAPIRO: A state investigation found many failures by Sheriff Scott Israel's department. Most glaringly, deputies didn't enter the school to stop the shootings. NPR's Greg Allen joins us now from Fort Lauderdale. Hi, Greg.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: The sheriff had been criticized for months. The governor just took office this past week. What was his reason for dismissing the sheriff now?

ALLEN: Well, as you say, there were many calls for removal. Former Governor Rick Scott didn't act despite those calls for several months. Florida's constitution says the governor can remove officials but only for malfeasance, misfeasance or neglect of duty, which usually has meant they were just removed when they have been charged with crimes. But DeSantis says when he took the oath of office this week as governor, he knew he had to act. Former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel held a news conference of his own today after his governor announced his suspension. He said he's going to fight it, possibly going to court, and he's going to run for re-election in 2020.

SHAPIRO: What else did the governor say about the reasons he thought the sheriff needed to be suspended? There were obviously lots of failures to recognize the threat from the gunman beyond the sheriff's office.

ALLEN: Right. It was school officials and the FBI. And they were called out by the governor today at his news conference as well. But the investigation found systemic problems in Broward Sheriff's Office's response that day and really beforehand when Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, was - you know, called - police deputies came to his home repeatedly because of problems. But deputies that day, when they were interviewed after a shooting, couldn't recall when if ever they'd had active shooter training.

There's a well-documented failure of the deputy and school resource officer Scot Peterson to enter the school and try to engage the shooter that day. The investigation also found several other deputies failed to move toward the gunfire and try to stop the shooting. I talked to Fred Guttenberg, the father of Jaime Guttenberg, one of those who died that day. He talked about those failures, especially Scot Peterson.

FRED GUTTENBERG: All he had to do was shoot some bullets in the air so that the shooter knew there was another active shooter who was likely a police officer. That would have given my daughter the time - it might have stopped the shooter. The failure of those who stayed outside fumbling through their trunks, you know, cost lives.

ALLEN: You know, you contrast that with the officers from the Coral Springs Police Department who also responded to the shooting that day. They had recently had active shooter training, and they were the first law enforcement to enter the school.

SHAPIRO: Just in last 30 seconds or so, any word on who the replacement might be?

ALLEN: Yes. At the news coverage, we had a former Coral Springs Police Sergeant Gregory Tony. He'll be the acting new Sheriff's - head of the Sheriff's Office. He left the department a few years ago, has his own company, which does threat assessments and school shooter training. He's well-liked in the community and got high marks from the Parkland families who were at the news conference.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Thanks, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.