Broward County sheriff’s deputies took a largely symbolic vote of no confidence against embattled Sheriff Scott Israel, but their leader says he plans to press the issue with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and ask him to reconsider the sheriff’s position.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association vote was 534-94, with union President Jeff Bell vowing to ask Scott to consider removing Israel and praising the “great courage” of members who voted “under threat of retaliation and reprisal.”
“I cannot tell Gov. Scott how to do his job, but I’m asking him … to re-evaluate the position of sheriff,” Bell said. “If he feels that Sheriff Israel must be removed or suspended, we will fully support him in that decision.”
Bell said it was the union’s first vote of no confidence against a sheriff.
“He fails to listen to the people,” he said of Israel. “He fails to listen to the membership and he wants to blame everybody else for his problems.”
Israel said in a statement that he was accountable only to the citizens of the 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,” the statement said. “I will not be distracted from my duties by this inconsequential IUPA union vote.”
Israel accused the union of using the vote to “extort a 6.5% pay raise from this agency,” a charge Bell denied.
“Those who purportedly voted in this straw ballot reflect only a small number of the 5,400 BSO employees,” Israel said. “The unions representing the vast majority of our employees solidly support the leadership of this agency.”
The announcement to hold a vote of no confidence was made Friday and the union cited “many instances of malfeasance … and the lack of leadership” as reasons for Thursday’s vote.
The union also said the sheriff’s handling of the Parkland school shooting enraged the rank and file, including an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper during which Israel boasted of his “amazing leadership.”
At Scott’s request, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting as well as the law enforcement response.
“Gov. Scott believes that people must be held accountable for the reported failures in response to the school shooting in Parkland, which is why he immediately called for a full and systematic FDLE investigation into the matter,” spokesman John Tupps said in a statement.
“Once that investigation is complete, and we have all the facts, the appropriate steps will be taken to hold people accountable.”
According to Florida statue, Scott has the power to suspend the sheriff for actions such as “misfeasance” and “neglect of duty” and may fill the office by appointment for the period of suspension. The actual power to remove the sheriff from office is in the hands of the state Senate.
CNN emails and calls for comment to the Florida Senate’s Office of the President were not returned. According to the body’s website, it makes “final dispositions” on whether to reinstate a suspended official or remove him from office.
Eleven days after the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran and 73 other Republican representatives sent a letter to Scott, asking him to suspend the sheriff for what they called his “incompetence and neglect of duty.”
The lawmakers also cited the failure of Scott and his deputies to enter the school building to stop the shooter, and their failure to act on warning signs about the shooter for years.
“Gov. Scott is absolutely disgusted the BSO deputy did not rush into the school to save these victims,” Tupps said in Thursday’s statement.
Scott exercised his power to suspend a sheriff in 2016, after then-Marion County Sheriff Chris Blair was indicted on two counts of perjury. In that case, Scott appointed an interim sheriff.
Since the no confidence vote campaign against Israel started last week, two other unions — The Federation Of Public Employees and Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #53 — have written letters of support for the sheriff.
“As your largest union, we support you and have confidence in how you are running this large complex agency,” said the letter from the public employees’ union, which claims to represent 2,500 Broward Sheriff’s Office employees.
While the no confidence vote against Israel is symbolic, Bell said it represents the collective voice of the rank and file deputies, and he plans to use that voice to pressure the governor to act.
Bell said Scott’s failure to remove Israel would mean he “agrees the sheriff is an amazing leader.”