Gov. Rick Scott on Sunday directed the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to “immediately” investigate the response of law-enforcement authorities to the mass shooting this month that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The directive came as House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, sent a letter requesting that Scott suspend Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. The letter, which was joined by 73 Republican House members, came a day after Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, called for Israel’s removal. Local Reps. Clay Ingram, Frank White and Jayer Williamson all signed the letter.
A Broward County deputy resigned Thursday after it was determined he failed to enter the school while the shooting was ongoing. Other questions have been raised about whether law enforcement adequately responded in the past to warnings about shooter Nikolas Cruz.
Scott’s directive to FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen did not detail the reasons for the request or how long the investigation could take.
During a television appearance Sunday, Israel pushed back against Hager’s removal request, which came in a letter to Scott.
“It was a shameful letter. It was politically motivated,” Israel told CNN’s Jack Tapper. “I never met that man (Hager). He doesn’t know anything about me. And the letter was full of misinformation.”
In the letter, Hager, who is chairman of the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, called for Scott to remove Israel for “neglect of duty and incompetence.” The letter Sunday from Corcoran used similar descriptions.
“Sheriff Israel’s fundamental duty is to keep the peace and protect the citizens of Broward County,” said Corcoran’s letter, posted on Twitter. “He has the power and responsibility to appoint highly-qualified deputies and to ensure they receive state-of-the-art training. Sheriff Israel failed to maintain a culture of alertness, vigilance and thoroughness amongst his deputies.”
Along with the highly publicized failure of school-resource officer Scot Peterson to enter the building during the shooting, Hager and Corcoran wrote that Israel’s agency had received numerous calls previously about threats posed by Cruz, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas student charged with 17 counts of murder in the shooting spree.
In his letter, Hager also said other agencies, including the Florida Department of Children and Families and the FBI, did not properly follow up on signals that Cruz could be a threat.
“Sadly, he (Israel) was not the only one that ignored it,” Hager wrote. “DCF, Broward County Schools, the FBI and the BSO (Broward Sheriff’s Office) all had the pieces to put this puzzle together but failed to communicate. While you do not have authority to remove anyone at the FBI, you do have the authority to remove Sheriff Israel, and I encourage you do to so immediately.”
Scott has called for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign over the federal agency’s acknowledged failure to follow protocol on a tip regarding the shooter. He has not made discussed changes in leadership at the Department of Children and Families, which deemed Cruz, who admitted cutting himself and planning to purchase a gun on Snapchat posts, a “low” threat to harm himself or others in late 2016
Hager blamed Israel for failing to coordinate with the Department of Children and Families and has requested that state money intended for the Broward Sheriff’s Office be redirected to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to start a pilot program in the county to better assess risk.
On Saturday, Israel sent a letter to Scott, disputing information from Hager as “riddled with factual errors, unsupported gossip and falsehoods.”
Israel wrote that Peterson was the only officer on campus at the time of the attack and that despite assertions by Hager and others, the sheriff’s office didn’t make 39 visits to Cruz’s home.
Israel agreed with Hager that the sheriff’s office received 23 calls regarding Cruz’s home but contended most were “routine” parenting issues and five involved the shooter’s brother.
Israel noted two encounters involving Cruz remain under investigation. One, for example, involved the school resource officer referring Cruz to the Department of Children and Families, which closed the case a couple of months later. He also touted the work of law-enforcement agencies, including police from Coral Springs, Sunrise and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I am very proud of the incredible work that so many from BSO and other agencies (including CSPD, FDLE, Sunrise, FBI, ATF and others) performed on February 14,” Israel wrote. “And I am equally appalled that Rep. Hager felt the need to engage in disingenuous political grandstanding, perhaps in the hope he will garner some headlines, at the expense of the truth.”