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Official Recommends Return To Duty For Sheriff Suspended Over Parkland Shootings

Scott Israel listens to comments by his attorney at a news conference in January 2019. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Israel over his handling of last year's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Florida Senate special master Dudley Goodlette is recommending that Israel be reinstated.
Wilfredo Lee

A special master appointed by the Florida Senate is recommending reinstatement for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the sheriff in January, citing the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in which 17 people died.

DeSantis charged Israel with neglect of duty and incompetence in his response to the mass shooting in Parkland and another shooting, a year earlier. In January 2017, a gunman opened fire in the baggage claim area at Fort Lauderdale's airport, killing five people. The governor said the shooting and ensuing chaos could have been avoided with better training and preparation. In his report to the Florida Senate, Special Master Dudley Goodlette says no evidence supported that claim.

In the second incident, last year's shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Israel was charged with neglecting his duty or being incompetent in failing to detect the threat and preventing the shooting. He was also cited for not having a policy in place requiring deputies to engage an active shooter.

Special Master Goodlette says the Broward sheriff's active shooter policy "wasn't ideal." A stronger active shooter policy, Goodlette says, may have stopped the threat sooner.

"I cannot agree, however, that the BSO Active Shooter Policy was so deficient that it evidences neglect of duty or incompetence on the part of Sheriff Israel," he says, adding that many Florida law enforcement agencies have similar policies.

In his report, the special master says Sheriff Israel and his office aren't blameless in the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. But he said the evidence offered during a two-day trial in June didn't show why it warranted his removal from office.

Special Master Goodlette submitted his report to Florida's Senate and, in a special session next month, the lawmakers will decide whether to follow his recommendation and reinstate Israel, or uphold the suspension and remove him from office.

Scott Israel praised Special Master Goodlette and the Senate for what he called "a fair process." The parents of some of those who died in Parkland expressed shock at the finding. Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa died at the school told AP, "I feel like someone just punched me in the stomach."

In a written statement, Gov. DeSantis said he disagreed with the recommendation.

"The victims with families impacted by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School deserve justice and accountability," DeSantis said. "Floridians were appalled by Scott Israel's repeated failures and expect their senators will provide the accountability that the Parkland families have sought for the past year and a half."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.
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