FORT LAUDERDALE, FL — With his Florida constituents still reeling from the murderous Valentine’s Day rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel lost a no confidence vote Thursday that was called by a union representing hundreds of his deputies. The vote was 534 to 92 against the county’s top cop. Israel insisted that the vote was "inconsequential" and reflected only a small percentage of his 5,400 employees.
"I am accountable to the citizens of Broward County. My job is to continue to do the job I was elected to do, which is to ensure the safety of Broward County’s 1.9 million residents," Israel fired back after the vote was announced late Thursday afternoon. The sheriff claimed that the vote was intended to "extort" a 6.5 percent pay raise from his agency.
But officials of the Broward chapter of The International Union of Police Associations countered that the vote reflects deep dissatisfaction with Israel’s handling of the worst school massacre since a gunman opened fire in Sandy Hook Elementary School. Seventeen students and faculty members were killed in the Stoneman Douglas massacre.
"We will now be taking our voice up to Tallahassee and we’re going to ask the governor to please listen to the men and women in Broward County, that we do not agree with this amazing leadership in Broward County and to please make change," declared union President Jeff Bell of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association. "Please reinstate the leadership of the Br0ward Sheriff’s Office with somebody who is capable of displaying amazing leadership."
Bell accused Israel of unfairly singling out former deputy Scot Peterson for his alleged inaction before the investigation was even complete.
"Sheriff Israel and I agree on one thing and one thing only: That Deputy Peterson needed to go into that building and to try and save more lives," Bell said. "I do not agree that Deputy Peterson was a coward. I believe he froze. He did respond to the initial call, but when he got there he failed to take appropriate and further action."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott took note of the vote but said he would hold off making a judgement until he receives the results of an independent investigation into the handling of the massacre. That investigation is being conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
"Once that investigation is complete, and we have all the facts, the appropriate steps will be taken to hold people accountable," explained John Tupps, the governor’s communications director. "Gov. Scott is absolutely disgusted the BSO deputy did not rush into the school to save these victims."
Israel had previously charged that the no confidence vote followed a recent telephone conversation with Bell in which the union president allegedly warned: "With all the Parkland stories in the news, this would be a good time for him to settle the contract issues."
Bell said that Israel lied.
"The sheriff is a complete liar, capital letters on that" snapped Bell. "This has never been about a contract. This has been about his longstanding bad policies, his failure at leadership, his policies that skirt the laws in Broward County to make things such as possession of marijuana legal by saying that we cannot bring those drugs in a drug lab, and have them tested, so we can have proper prosecution."
The vote was open to all deputies and sergeants in the collective bargaining unit. It began on Monday.
"The unions representing the vast majority of our employees solidly support the leadership of this agency," Israel added.
Photo of Sheriff Scottt Israel courtesy Broward Sheriff’s Office