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New Florida governor suspends sheriff over school massacre

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — New Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Friday over his handling of February's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

The Republican governor flew to Fort Lauderdale three days after taking office to remove the Democratic sheriff, appointing a former police sergeant to serve as acting sheriff. Gregory Tony, 40, worked for Coral Springs police for 12 years before leaving in 2016 to start a company specializing in active-shooter training. He is the first African-American to serve as Broward's sheriff.

DeSantis' office issued a statement saying, "Sheriff Israel has repeatedly failed and has demonstrated a pattern of poor leadership. He failed to protect Floridians and visitors during the tragic Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting in 2017. He failed in his duties to keep our families and children safe during the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, 2018. These incidents demonstrate Sheriff's Israel's repeated incompetence and neglect of duty."

The statement added, "The families of the victims deserve accountability."

Israel was expected to issue a statement later in the afternoon.

Under Florida law, the governor can suspend elected officials for criminal activity, misfeasance, incompetence or neglect of duty. Israel intends to challenge the suspension to the state Senate, which will conduct a trial and then remove or reinstate him. Israel's lawyer, Stuart Kaplan, said this week the sheriff did nothing warranting removal and his future should be left to Broward voters in the 2020 election. Israel had been sheriff six years.

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Florida governor Ron DeSantis

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US Representative Ron DeSantis, Republican of Florida, and candidate for Florida Governor, speaks during a rally with US President Donald Trump at Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Representative Ron DeSantis, a Republican from Florida, right, talks to Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Republican from Utah and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, before a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The hearing is part of some Republican lawmakers' push to impeach International Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner John Koskinen for allegedly failing to cooperate with an investigation after the IRS reportedly targeted conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

UNITED STATES - May 16: Ron DeSantis (R) Florida is interviewed at Roll Call in Washington, D.C. (Photo By Douglas Graham/Roll Call)

UNITED STATES - MARCH 3: Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., speaks at the American Conservative Union's CPAC conference at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md., on Thursday, March 3, 2016. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 08: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) speaks at the National Oversight and Government Reform Committee on moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem on Capitol Hill on November 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 14: Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., is interviewed by a TV news crew outside of the House chamber as Congress prepares to vote on defunding President Obama's executive actions on immigration on Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

UNITED STATES - JUNE 18: Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., speaks at a news conference at the House Triangle to oppose the Marketplace Fairness Act, also called the internet tax, which would require online retailers to collect a sales tax at the time of a purchase. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Republican Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Republican Florida governor candidate Ron DeSantis speaks as U.S. President Donald Trump stands during a Make America Great Again Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa, Florida, U.S., July 31, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) speaks during an event hosted by the Zionist Organization of America on Capitol Hill on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

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Last April, DeSantis said he would have suspended Israel if he were governor but he backed off later in the campaign, saying only that he would hold officeholders accountable. DeSantis' Republican predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, refused to suspend Israel, saying he wanted to wait until investigations into the Feb. 14 shooting that left 17 dead were complete before deciding.

Some parents of Stoneman Douglas victims and conservative state lawmakers began pushing for Israel's ouster shortly after the shooting when it was revealed that the Broward deputy assigned to guard the school, Scot Peterson, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter and his AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, but took cover outside.

Other Broward deputies who arrived during the shooting also didn't enter, even while officers from neighboring Coral Springs — Tony's former department — charged inside. Parents also bashed Israel for saying during a nationally broadcast interview he had provided "amazing leadership" in the shooting's aftermath.

"Nothing, nothing, nothing will bring my kid or 16 others back, but there was failure everywhere you turned," said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime died in the shooting. "And after that failure, there was just a refusal to take accountability and responsibility. I wish him well but it was time for a change."

The heat increased after it was learned the sheriff's office received a call in 2016 and another in 2017 warning that suspect Nikolas Cruz, now 20, was a potential school shooter but deputies disregarded them. Deputies also had about 20 contacts with Cruz as a juvenile — mostly over arguments with his now-deceased mother. Israel has said none of those contacts warranted an arrest — a conclusion law enforcement members of the state commission investigating the shooting have agreed with.

But commissioners in their report finalized last week criticized Israel for earlier changing his office's policy to say deputies "may" confront active shooters instead of "shall," giving deputies an excuse for not charging the school. Israel told them he didn't want deputies to think they had to conduct suicide missions.

Commissioners also concluded that the department's active shooter training had not been effective. Still, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the commission's chairman, and other law enforcement officials on the panel have said they didn't think Israel should be suspended.

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Parkland, Fla. keeps memory of shooting alive

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An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, wears a t-shirt with the names of the victims of the shooting, as she plays the piano at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Daniela Menescal (R), who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attends a baseball game her brother is playing in, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 5, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Manuel Oliver, the father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries next to his family after painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Listening to his son's favourite music, Oliver painted the mural from beginning to end, but as soon as he finished, he broke down and had to walk inside the hotel to mourn. Later he went out again to give interviews to the media to call for more gun control. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, cries in his hotel room before painting a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. Minutes before leaving the hotel room to paint the mural, Oliver put on his son's headphones and played his favourite music. Almost immediately, he started to cry and he had to take them off. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

A man looks at pictures of the victims of the mass shooting in Parkland on the program during the graduation ceremony for students from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Manuel Oliver (R) and Patricia Padauy (2nd R), parents of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, look at the screen as they wait backstage to receive their son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up her son's diploma during his graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, walks past his son's classmates, during their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School attend their graduation ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, helps her brother practice baseball at their house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Autographed sports t-shirts, pictures and placards are seen among other mementoes at the room of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 11, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

The entrance to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is seen after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

A member of the media pushes a cart full of equipment in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A garbage bag full of crime scene tape is seen close to the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, after the police security perimeter was removed, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Patricia Padauy, the mother of Joaquin Oliver, one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks to a journalist during an interview before attending her son's high school graduation ceremony to receive his diploma, at home in Parkland, Florida, U.S., June 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Daniela Menescal, who was injured by shrapnel during the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, looks for her belongings inside her clear backpack at her house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 4, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

The initials of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and a placard are placed on the fence at Park Trails Elementary School, following a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 9, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin Oliver one of the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, holds up a placard as he paints a mural to commemorate the victims of the shooting and promote gun control in Los Angeles, California, U.S., April 7, 2018. As he paints the mural Oliver listens to his son's favourite music on the headphones that belonged to him. The mural depicts his son the day that he died, carrying flowers to his girlfriend for Valentine's day. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Carlos Rodriguez (2nd R), student and shooting survivor from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, talks with his schoolmates and co-founders of Stories Untold, a movement created to encourage victims of gun violence to share their stories, during a meeting at his house in Parkland, Florida, U.S., April 10, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

Pictures of Joaquin Oliver and Aaron Feis, victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, are seen on a cross placed in a park to commemorate the victims, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins 

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Israel, 62, was elected sheriff in 2012 after a long career in law enforcement, ousting the Republican incumbent on his second attempt in the overwhelmingly Democratic county. After taking office, Israel, a Republican until changing parties shortly before running in 2008, received criticism over his friendship with notorious GOP operative Roger Stone, for promoting Stone's inexperienced stepson to detective and for accepting gifts from a wealthy benefactor.

However, community leaders praised his work with the homeless, minority and gay communities. Violent crime went down, and he easily won re-election in 2016 to oversee the county's 2,800 deputies.

Israel for years has called for tougher gun laws in Florida, a stance that created critics long before the school shooting.

Shortly after Israel's second term began, a man retrieved a handgun from his luggage at Fort Lauderdale's airport and opened fire, killing five. While Israel's deputies apprehended him within 72 seconds, the draft of a county report said Israel and others didn't control the chaos, leaving passengers huddled in fear for hours. He criticized the draft, and the final version was less harsh — but many of the same communications problems that plagued the airport response repeated at Stoneman Douglas.

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