The 25-15 vote finalizes Gov. Ron DeSantis’ executive order suspending Israel from the position due to allegations of neglect of duty and failures in his department’s responses to mass shootings in 2017 at the Fort Lauderdale airport and in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The five state senators representing portions of Broward County voted to reinstate the former sheriff.
Families of some of the victims in the Parkland shooting, who attended proceedings on both Monday and Wednesday, praised the decision.
Israel, a Democrat, has said he believes the Republican governor had political motives for removing him.
Israel, who was elected sheriff in 2012 and 2016, has said he will run again in 2020.
If Israel is re-elected in 2020, DeSantis says he “will not suspend him for previous actions of neglect of duty and incompetence,” spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre told CNN.
Israel’s ouster ignited divisions in the state.
Senators on both sides of the aisle expressed concern about the specter of the state’s chief executive removing a locally elected official, and Israel’s supporters showed up at the Capitol In Tallahassee wearing “The People’s Sheriff” buttons. They told the committee it should be voters who elected Israel deciding his fate, not the governor.
“We put him in,” one woman said. “It we want him out, we will vote him out.”
Israel’s critics, including some family members of those killed in the February 14, 2018, shooting in Parkland, contend the blame falls on Israel.
Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed, told Israel he was rekindling parents’ pain and pleaded with the ex-lawman to stop fighting for his job. Gena Hoyer — whose son, Luke, would’ve celebrated his 17th birthday this week — said permanently booting Israel “is our first step in the right direction.”
“We have to hold people accountable for their failures because that is the only way people will get serious about fixing the problems,” Hoyer said.
The mother of Aaron Feis, the coach who died shielding students, struggled to tell the committee through tears, “I don’t want him reinstated.”
Politics or accountability?
Florida law allows DeSantis to suspend a sheriff for malfeasance or neglect of duty. It also allows him to appoint an interim sheriff, but the Senate wields the power to determine whether the governor’s rationale for suspension is legitimate.
In his executive order, the governor alleged Israel was incompetent and negligent in his duties related to the shootings.
In Monday’s vote, Israel’s fellow Democrats, including the four senators representing Broward County, supported his reinstatement.
Peterson retired from his position and faces charges of culpable negligence, perjury and seven counts of felony neglect of a child. His attorney said in June the charges are politically motivated.
Book said she understands Stoneman Douglas parents and others in the community want Israel to face consequences, “but the thing that has always, always eaten me up inside is that one deputy didn’t move for 48 minutes — 48 minutes, while gunshots were going off, while you could hear them. He knew where they were. He was dropped off at the front door of that building.”
“I believe that if we do not reinstate Mr. Israel that Deputy Peterson walks, because you can’t have it both ways,” Book said. “For me, the thing that I weigh the most is the fact that I want to hold this coward accountable.”
Israel’s lawyer: No one ‘acted perfectly’
Book’s argument echoed that of the appointed special master, attorney and former GOP lawmaker J. Dudley Goodlette, who recommended the Senate reinstate Israel.
In his 34-page report last month, Goodlette wrote that the sheriff and his office are not blameless in the Parkland response, but “the evidence offered has not demonstrated that Sheriff Israel should be removed from office based on this incident.”
The blame falls on multiple people, most notably on Peterson, he said.
“While the governor has offered a plethora of criticism, he has not shown that Sheriff Israel’s policies, procedures or trainings on active shooter situations are inconsistent with Florida law enforcement standards,” Goodlette said.
A lawyer representing DeSantis said the governor has considered multiple factors, including the sheriff’s department’s improper response to reports about the Parkland shooter prior to the massacre and deputies’ failure to engage the shooter once the massacre began.
Israel also knew of problems with his department’s response to the January 2017 Fort Lauderdale airport shooting and did nothing to rectify them in the 13 months preceding the Stoneman Douglas attack, attorney George Levesque said.
“The law makes him responsible for the acts of his deputies,” Levesque said. “It is generally held that a sheriff and his deputy are one and the same person, and the acts of the deputy may be imputed to the sheriff.”
Israel’s lawyer, Benedict Kuehne, argued that DeSantis had failed to provide sufficient evidence to support Israel’s removal. That alone should be cause for reinstatement, he said.
“Sheriff Israel has never, never taken the position that anybody, including himself, acted perfectly,” the lawyer said. “He does, however, assert the position that officers were trained and knew their responsibility and had to act based on knowledge and information they had.”
CNN’s Dianne Gallagher and Angela Barajas reported from Tallahassee and Eliott C. McLaughlin wrote and reported from Atlanta. Madeline Holcombe contributed to this report.