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Florida Senate permanently removes Scott Israel as Broward sheriff

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After hours of debate filled with gripping, emotional details about the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre and soaring rhetoric about constitutional rights and the weighty responsibilities of elected officials, the Florida Senate voted Wednesday to permanently remove suspended Broward Sheriff Scott Israel.
The 25-15 vote was mostly along party lines with Republicans, who are a majority in the Senate and loyal to the Republican governor, generally supporting removal while most Democrats voted to reinstate the Democratic sheriff. All five Broward senators voted for reinstatement, despite the wishes of Parkland parents.

Israel, whose leadership was seen as so flawed by the governor and family members of Parkland victims that it contributed to some of the 17 deaths and 17 injuries, has been out off office since Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him in January.
“I hope the outcome provides some measure of relief to the Parkland families that have been doggedly pursuing accountability,” DeSantis said in a statement after the vote. DeSantis cited incompetence and neglect of duty in connection with the 2018 Parkland massacre and the 2017 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting.

and a large group of Israel supporters — were at the Rules Committee on Monday.

Only about two dozen spectators were in the Senate gallery on Wednesday for the final vote.
“This isn’t a win for anybody because nothing brings back 17 people," said Gena Hoyer, whose son Luke was killed at Stoneman Douglas. “This is a removal for all the citizens of Broward County. It’s not just for Parkland.”
Lori Alhadeff, whose daughter Alyssa was killed at the school and has since been elected to the Broward School Board, said the Senate vote brought some accountability for failures surrounding the Parkland shooting.
“I wanted truth, justice and accountability, and today we received some accountability,” Alhadeff said. “It was important for me to be here today because I wanted to look into the senators’ eyes, hear what senators voted yes and no, to see it for myself.”
Alhadeff, Hoyer and several other family members said after the vote they were disappointed that all five senators who represent parts of Broward — some of whom saw the inside of the school when it was still a fresh crime scene — voted to reinstate Israel.
“That was very difficult to watch. They cried with us. They might even have seen my child dead, and so it was very difficult, and I know the Broward County voters are watching," Alhadeff said.
State Sen. Perry Thurston, a Democrat who represents parts of Broward and sits on the Rules Committee, voted for the second time in the week to reinstate Israel.
“I can stand here and I can tell you how I empathize with the Parkland parents,” Thurston said. “I’m not disregarding them. None of us would.” Earlier Wednesday, during a Democratic caucus, he told colleagues that he understands the families’ feelings. “If I was a parent I would want vengeance too.”
But, he added, “95% of Broward County feels differently about the attempt to remove the sheriff.” He said that sheriffs across the state should be worried about precedent being set if Israel is removed.
State Sen. Kevin Rader, a Democrat who is based in Palm Beach County but whose district extends into northwest Broward — including the Stoneman Douglas campus — said the vote “is one of the most difficult I’ve been faced with and certainly the most personal to my district in all my years as a legislator.”
But, Rader said, the high standard for proof for removal had not been met, and he voted to reinstate Isreal. “We are tasked between deciding about how we feel and the dangerous precedent we leave behind,” he said.
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State Sen. Gary Farmer, another Broward Democrat, said emotions and the rule of law conflict in this case.
“Because of the horrendous and ghastly nature of that event, it’s easy to be moved by the emotion and the pleas of the parents who are still grieving and who forever will be grieving for the loss of their children," Farmer said. “We are a country founded on rule of law. We cannot base our decision on emotion."
He said Israel “soiled his own performance. I am not going to defend his performance ... but again, that is not a sufficient reason to ignore the will of Broward County voters and remove him from office.”
The other two senators who represent parts of Broward, Democrats Lauren Book and Oscar Braynon II, also voted to reinstate Israel.
A handful of senators split with their parties. Three Democrats — Randolph Bracy of Ocoee, Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, and Annette Taddeo of Miami — voted to remove Israel.
“Our job today is to arrive at our own conclusion based on all the evidence that exists,” Rouson said. “The policies created by the sheriff shape the actions of the deputy,” adding that “I make this decision today not based on a primary opponent. Not based on the next election. But I make it because I believe that it’s the right decision."
Taddeo said she needed to listen to the voices of the Parkland parents. “I am taking the call of the parents,” she said.
State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, voted against removing Israel.
Lee said he had serious concerns about the fairness of the process — and said Israel has as many rights as the school shooter will enjoy during his trial — and he had concerns about the precedent set that could lead to future sheriffs being suspended for the actions of one deputy.
"Based on the acts of an individual deputy on an individual day," Lee said prior to his vote, "We are establishing new law."
“You can’t have confidence that justice is being conducted here when things are being added on the fly,” Lee said, adding that neither Israel nor his attorney could adequately counter the new information.
But Senate Republican leader Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, rejected the complaints from Israel supporters that his due process rights were violated.
“Sheriff Israel received a full and thoughtful hearing in the Senate Rules Committee,” she said.
And Republican Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said Israel had had plenty of opportunities to present his case. “Mr. Israel got his day in court,” he said. “Due process has been served and justice has been served.”
He added, “Mr. Israel — if he is removed today — is not being removed due to the acts of a single deputy. ... The institution failed and he was its leader.”
“Mr. Israel’s stunning callousness in some of his statements” in the days after Parkland shooting, and his refusal to accept accountability “only made a horrible and tragic situation worse and that’s part of leadership too,” Bradley added. “Today is the day for accountability.”
Even after Monday’s Rules Committee vote forshadowed the final result, Parkland parents weren’t leaving anything for chance. Many were in the halls of the Capitol and Senate office building on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, meeting with as many senators as they can to press for Israel’s removal.
Although Senate President Bill Galvano didn’t want senators to comment about the case before voting, the Senate had allowed private, one-on-one conversations with senators urging them how to vote.
DeSantis beefed up his effort with a new attorney and the governor’s team and Parkland parents had been lobbying senators, an effort that intensified as this week’s special session got closer and after a special master appointed by the Senate president to examine the case recommended reinstating Israel.
Special Master Dudley Goodlette said the governor’s office didn’t offer sufficient justification for removing Israel.
Israel’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, has portrayed the Senate process as more like a judicial proceeding and said no one representing the suspended sheriff has been lobbying.
“We are frankly shocked and quite honestly appalled by the lack of due process,” Kuehne said after the Senate voted. Kuehne said it was “fundamentally unfair.” He has hinted before that federal court action could be Israel’s next step, but declined to say what would happen next.
Kuehne said he didn’t doubt the “good faith” of every senator, including those who voted against Israel, but said it was a grave mistake to “allow politics without facts” to govern such a momentous decision.

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