The sheriff who handled the Florida shooting is facing a firestorm of criticism and calls for him to resign

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel at a CNN town-hall meeting.

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Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel at a CNN town-hall meeting.
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Reuters/Michael Laughlin

  • Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is facing a firestorm of criticism over the way his deputies handled the shooting at a Florida high school earlier this month and warning signs about the suspect.
  • State officials have called for investigations into the Broward County Sheriff’s Office’s response to the shooting.
  • Dozens of Republican state lawmakers signed a letter demanding Israel’s suspension and accusing him of “incompetence and neglect of duty.”
  • Israel has dismissed the calls for his resignation, describing his leadership as “amazing.”

The sheriff of the community of Parkland, Florida, where a shooting at a high school earlier this month left 17 dead, now faces mounting calls for his resignation or removal as details surface about his office’s handling of the massacre.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel is under fire for several perceived missteps his department made both during the shooting and in past interactions with the suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.

The first major blow came last Thursday, when Israel announced that one of his deputies failed to confront the shooter during the rampage.

The deputy, Scot Peterson, was an armed school resource officer stationed on campus when the gunfire broke out. Israel said Peterson stood outside the building and did “nothing” as the gunman mowed down students and staff members, firing nearly 150 shots in seven minutes.

“I am devastated,” Israel said. “Sick to my stomach. He never went in.”

Peterson quickly resigned, but reports emerged late last week that three other Broward County deputies arrived at the scene and similarly did not enter the building.

Instead, it was officers from the nearby Coral Springs Police Department who first entered, reacting with shock and dismay when none of the Broward County deputies joined them, CNN reported, citing Coral Springs sources.

Israel told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that his department was still investigating his deputies’ conduct during the shooting.

“At this point, we have no reason to believe that anyone acted incorrectly or correctly – that’s what an investigation is,” he said.

‘Amazing’ leadership

Israel and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida.

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Israel and Gov. Rick Scott of Florida.
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Joe Raedle/Getty

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office has said it responded to calls involving Cruz or his family 23 times since 2008, though some reports indicate it received at least 45 calls in that time.

Citing a call log from the sheriff’s office, CNN reported earlier this month that officers were dispatched to Cruz’s home at least 39 times since 2010.

In an official statement on Saturday, the sheriff’s office said: “STOP REPORTING 39; IT’S SIMPLY NOT TRUE.”

Records of 911 calls show that police responded to a variety of reports that Cruz had become violent, run away from home, harmed himself, or threatened to shoot up a school.

None of the home visits resulted in an arrest or an involuntary commitment to a mental-health facility, which might have prevented Cruz from buying or possessing a gun under state law.

Israel has said his office is investigating two of those 911 calls but that the others were handled appropriately.

On CNN on Sunday, Israel defended his leadership as “amazing” and blamed criticisms of his department on Peterson’s failure to enter the school during the shooting.

But his reassurances went largely unheard.

Shortly after the interview, Gov. Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the Broward County Sheriff’s Office’s response to the shooting, and 74 Republican state lawmakers signed a letter calling for Israel’s suspension, accusing him of “incompetence and neglect of duty.”

“The failures of Sheriff Israel and his deputies during and after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018, and their failures to intervene regarding Nikolas Jacob Cruz in the years, months, and days leading up to that shooting, are unacceptable and unforgivable,” the letter said.

Israel was also the sheriff when his department responded to the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport in January 2017. A draft report from his office found that confusion, miscommunication, and missteps led to chaos at the scene, where a gunman shot 13 people, killing five.

Israel has previously been criticized for hiring his childhood friends and failing to report that a campaign donor paid for a yacht cruise and a party shortly after his election in 2012, according to the Miami Herald.

Israel has dismissed calls for him to step down and says his office will cooperate with the state’s investigation.

“Of course I won’t resign,” he told CNN on Sunday.