The South Florida Sun Sentinel endorsed former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for the current open sheriff position, despite the newspaper’s own past reporting on Israel’s corruption and failures.
The Sun Sentinel is the main daily newspaper for Fort Lauderdale, Florida, as well as surrounding Broward county and southern Palm Beach county. Israel served as the sheriff of Broward County from 2013 until his suspension on January 11, 2019, after public outcry over his handling of the tragic Parkland high school shooting.
According to the Sun Sentinel’s endorsement, “The six-way Democratic primary for Broward County sheriff is one of those elections without an ideal choice, in which the question is simply which of the viable candidates is the better one. That is why we recommend Scott Israel, the former sheriff.”
The newspaper, anticipating controversy over it’s selection of the disgraced former sheriff, acknowledged that their endorsement, “will be poorly received among the families shattered by the February 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland”.
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The endorsement also admitted that the Sentinel had previously “advised then-governor Rick Scott to remove Israel.” However, the Sun Sentinel has changed its tune for this election, “With time, however, that judgment seems harsh. Israel could not have prevented the tragedy.” Instead, “the school system was more to blame,” and, “the FBI, which did nothing about a credible warning of a potential school shooter.” The Sun Sentenial insisted that, “Overall, Israel had been a good sheriff.”
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, Israel refused to resign and made excuses for the failures of his own institutions. He shifted blame onto the NRA and on the cowardly officer who refused to entered the school under attack. “I gave him a gun. I gave him a badge. I gave him the training. If he didn’t have the heart to go in, that’s not my responsibility,” Israel said.
Between 2008 and 2017, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office received 18 calls about the school shooter, Nikolas Cruz, including a threat to shoot up a school, and yet nothing was done or monitored to keep guns out of his hands.
According to the paper, Israel’s opponent, Gregory Tony, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis after Israel was suspended, “does not” deserve to be sheriff and accuses DeSantis of choosing Tony, “poorly in his haste to keep a campaign promise. The editorial board claims DeSantis, “knew little about Tony other than that he was then a Republican”.
The Sun Sentinel gave a scathing characterization of Gregory Tony:
“Tony’s career is marred by deceit. He lied to DeSantis to get the job. He lied by concealing a significant fact that the governor and the public deserved to know — that when he was 14, he had shot and killed another young man. He also withheld this fact from the Coral Springs Police Department, where he began his law enforcement career 15 years ago.
“He also kept from Coral Springs that he had used a hallucinogenic substance — LSD — in the 1990s, and that he had been charged with passing a bad check while a student at Florida State University. He told Coral Springs he had not known about the charge.
“Besides credibility, there also are questions of conflict of interest, a hot temper ill befitting the office, and injudicious conduct in his private life.”
The endorsement recounts an incident five years ago “when [Tony] and his wife posed semi-nude for photographs at what appears to be a swingers club in Miami.”
Israel and Tony dominate a field of six contenders for the position. There are no longer runoffs in Florida, and the paper rightly predicts that the nomination will be won with a small fraction of the total vote. Therefore, the Sentinel contends, “voters have one chance to get it right.”
The newspaper described Israel’s tenure prior to the Parkland Tragedy as “progressive” and “without personal scandal” and they cite pre-Parkland articles about Israel where they wrote, “In many ways Israel has been a good sheriff…” According to the paper, Israel’s record is one of being “against guns on campus,” making “reluctant deputies wear body cameras and at least one non-lethal device.”
They also praised him as “masterful at community relations, handing out turkeys at Thanksgiving, riding in the LGBTQ pride parade and attending services at diverse churches and temples.”
The Sun Sentenial followed Israel’s lead in blaming the Parkland shooting deputy Scott Peterson. The Sun Sentenial also called out other officers on site, saying that they “failed to pursue the shooter” and that, “far too many (officers) showed cowardice, hiding behind trees, cars and walls.”
Prior to Israel’s ouster, parents and classmates of Parkland victims gave emotional speeches calling for Israel to be fired. “The senseless murder of so many, including my 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, tests the limits of faith and demands more endurance than I thought possible,” said Ryan Petty, who choked back tears and called the massacre “arguably the most preventable school shooting in history”. Unlike the Sun Sentinel, Ryan Petty does not exonerate Sheriff Israel from accountability in the school shooting, “Every relevant authority knew he was a deeply troubled youth with a potential for lethal violence,” he declared.
Anthony Borges, a former Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student who was shot five times said, “I’m here to represent my friend, Martin Duque, who is not with us anymore as a result of this massacre.” Speaking directly to the firing of Israel, Borges unambiguously pleaded, “The governor did the right thing. Please respect the decision.”