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Scott Israel
Scott Israel
Broward's Sheriff's Office

Could a Shameful Coverup Contribute to Broward Sheriff Scott Israel's Ouster?

When Richard Fusco took the call from his friend and neighbor Kevin Shults, he knew it might not be a pleasant conversation. Fusco, after all, had done what no one should ever do: He had slept with his neighbor’s wife.

But he had no idea how bad it was going to get. The call was just the beginning of a weeks-long Cape Fear-like torrent of threats and intimidation that would come from the 47-year-old Fusco's former friend in the rural Loxahatchee neighborhood where they resided.

“[Shults] called me on the phone and said he was going to destroy me and that I was going to have to look over my shoulder wherever I go,” Fusco would later write of that first phone call. “Told me I was going to pay... that I’m going to find out what [it’s] like to have nothing.”

The next day came an unexpected visit to his home from Shults, whom Fusco knew was often armed. Shults pulled up in his truck with his wife in tow. Fusco wrote in court papers that Shults opened the gate, walked to his door, and pounded on it, yelling, “Come on out, you pussy!” Then Fusco’s stepson pulled up to the house but was blocked from entering the gate by Shults’ truck. At that point, Shults relented, telling the stepson to inform Fusco he was looking for him before leaving.

Shults phoned Fusco the next day, this time asking to meet in a public place.

“I agreed, thinking we could discuss matters and move on,” Fusco wrote of his decision to take the meeting. “He wanted to meet... by soccer fields, but I was in fear of violence and/or death from him. So I met him at Pasquale's Italian restaurant.”

When they sat down inside the large brick-walled pizza place in a busy, well-heeled Wellington strip mall, it became immediately clear to the 150-pound Fusco that Shults — who had six years and 60 pounds on him, most of it muscle — had no intention of moving on. In what would be a disturbing parable, Shults began by telling him that when he was 8 years old, his father had taken him into a field and shot a stallion in front of him. He said he didn’t understand the reason for the bloodshed until later, when he realized the horse was no longer any good and needed to be put down.

“He sat down and told me that his dad shot a horse they owned when he was young and that he had to shoot it because it crossed the line,” Fusco wrote. “He said that when my tires are flat... or my motorcycle gets messed up, think of him. He told me he doesn’t need his job... so that made me believe he [was] going to do something seriously [sic] to me. He told me it was my choice, to die as a Roman standing or kneeling. It was my choice.”

After making these threats, which Fusco captured on his cell-phone recorder, Shults allegedly became physical. Fusco, who refused to discuss the case publicly, wrote in court records that Shults “threw a beer in my face” and “asked me if I was going to do anything about it.” Fusco said he wasn’t, and Shults responded, “I didn’t think so,” before walking out the door.

Fusco didn’t press charges against Shults for what could easily be construed as simple battery, but he called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office the next day to document the harrowing encounter. A deputy wrote in his report: “Richard just wants nothing more to do with Kevin or his wife and to be left alone.”

That wouldn’t happen either. Instead, the dispute grew uglier, culminating in a dangerous blowup that involved a rock and an alleged death threat. But it wasn’t only Shults’ menacing behavior that was alarming to Fusco; it was what Shults does for a living. He’s a sworn officer of the law. And he’s not just any cop. Shults is a major at the Broward Sheriff’s Office, a top aide to Sheriff Scott Israel and in charge of all training at the massive agency.

Shults, who didn’t respond to a request for comment by New Times, was tasked with readying BSO deputies to deal with mass shootings before Valentine’s Day 2018, when a deeply disturbed teenager with rage in his heart and an AR-15 in his hands massacred 17 people, 14 of them students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. Shults’ training program came under intense scrutiny after numerous BSO deputies failed to rush into the school, instead hanging back behind patrol cars and trees. Now locals — and indeed many people across the nation — wait to see if newly elected Gov. Ron DeSantis will fulfill a campaign promise by removing Israel from office for BSO’s abysmal performance in Parkland as well as the sheriff’s failure to take responsibility and his own contradictory and at times false statements in the aftermath of the tragedy. A decision on his removal is widely expected to come in days, if not hours.

Broward Sheriff’s Dep. Jeff Bell — the BSO union chief and a DeSantis transition team member — strongly believes Israel is unfit for office. And he says the new governor should consider the Shults case in deciding the sheriff’s fate. Bell says Israel grossly mishandled the situation. He should have immediately removed Shults from his training post upon learning of the alleged abuse and referred the case to the State Attorney’s Office for prosecution.

“There’s an implication of crimes committed here,” Bell says. “A regular deputy would have been put on restrictive duty immediately pending investigation.”

Instead, the record shows that Shults’ high-ranking colleagues failed to conduct a complete investigation and essentially covered up the case, which has never before been made public. Though there's no telling that the tragic outcome at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High would have been different if Shults had been disciplined and demoted for his alleged acts, Bell says the Shults coverup is a sign of the fundamental rot at the core of BSO, where special treatment for Israel’s imported, handpicked command staff has led to abysmal morale, a vote of no-confidence in the sheriff last April, and deep-rooted problems that scream out for Israel to be removed from his post for good.

BSO deputies the day of the Parkland massacre.
BSO deputies the day of the Parkland massacre.
Photo by Ian Witlen

When Scott Israel was elected sheriff in 2012, one of the first things he did was to hire friends from his former employer, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. He stacked his command staff with so many FLPD members that some Broward Sheriff's veterans viewed it as a veritable soft coup by the smaller department. Those brought over received powerful positions, promotions, and pay raises. Among them were Steven Kinsey, who was made undersheriff; Jack Dale, who was promoted to colonel and placed in charge of both internal affairs and criminal investigations; Jim Polan, who was ultimately put in control of the road patrol; Jonathan Appel, who was placed on the executive command staff; former FLPD Chief Frank Adderley, who was made a colonel; and Jan Jordan, who was eventually made the commander in the Parkland district. Also hired was a Fort Lauderdale sergeant — Kevin Shults — who would ultimately be promoted to major.

While receiving pensions from FLPD, all of these retirees began also collecting hefty salaries at BSO (Shults, for instance, currently makes $143,000). The placement of FLPD transplants at the top of the BSO command structure was perfectly legal after Israel won the election, but numerous deputies have complained it caused a corrosive division in the agency that has only worsened with time. Israel, in effect, imported an instant good-old-boys network loyal to him. Seasoned BSO personnel were either terminated or pushed into lower positions, while outsiders, at times regarded by the rank-and-file as unqualified, took their place. The new hires insulated the sheriff and, at the same time, took care of one another, say Bell and numerous other BSO sources.

“It’s a systematic pattern that if you’re part of the Fort Lauderdale crew, you will be protected,” the union chief says. “Their circle of friends will be protected, but if you’re not part of that crew, you will suffer severely.”

Consider the case of command staffer Appel. While running the agency’s body-cam program, he engineered the hiring of his brother-in-law as the program’s video technician with a $20,000 bump in his starting pay. Appel didn’t disclose the relationship, which appears to violate the department’s nepotism policy and could have qualified as official misconduct. Yet when it was brought to light, the agency took no action other than to issue Appel a “counseling report,” essentially telling him not to do it again.

Jan Jordan and Scott Israel
Jan Jordan and Scott Israel
Courtesy of BSO

A more recent and notorious case is that of Jordan, a former FLPD sergeant whom Israel hired out of retirement and promoted to captain and was also earning more than $100,000. Although Jordan had little to no command experience, Israel recommended her for the top position in Parkland. Her performance at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High was, by all accounts, outrageously lacking. She responded to Building 1 of the school and can be seen on surveillance video pacing about in the lobby for eight minutes while the shooter was across campus in Building 12. Meanwhile, numerous deputies under her command cowered outside the school, some even as shots were being fired. Her first radio transmission didn’t concern going in to neutralize the threat (and try to save students and staff) but instead referred to setting up a perimeter.

Other deputies later described her as “overwhelmed,” “ineffective,” and seemingly in a “trance-like” state throughout the ordeal. Israel defended Jordan for months after the shooting despite readily available evidence that she had failed in her command. It wasn’t until November, when the MSD Public Safety Commission documented her shortcomings in public hearings, that Jordan resigned from the agency.

The case of Shults, though less momentous, might be even more egregious. As the agency’s training officer, Shults became somewhat controversial among deputies for his emphasis on de-escalation techniques. “The biggest component of de-escalation is communication," Shults said during a law enforcement podcast in 2016. “We can provide our deputies preplanned default modes so they don't get that ego button pushed and go down that negative dance.”

Many deputies have complained the emphasis on de-escalation was making the force too soft and less capable of reacting to a real emergency. Bell has gone as far as to say it might have influenced the disastrous response in Parkland. But with Fusco, it’s clear Shults’ own ego button was pushed and he went down that negative dance with a fury that led him to a confrontation with Palm Beach County authorities.

Two weeks after Shults tossed a beer in his face, Fusco heard a vehicle outside his home, the last on a dead-end rural road. He looked outside and saw Shults’ daughter in a truck that was stuck in a ditch. Soon Shults himself arrived. Fusco began recording video outside his door in case something happened. It did.

“I started filming, and he picked up a rock and walked toward me and my stepson, calling me all kinds of names, saying he doesn’t need his job as a sheriff,” Fusco wrote in the application for a restraining order. “His daughter had to pull him back with great force to make him turn around.”

Fusco testified that Shults then returned to his truck.

“When he jumped out of his truck the second time, he pointed his finger at us and acted like he was shooting,” Fusco wrote. “I have the whole incident on video. I then stopped filming and went into the house [until] they left.”

Fusco again called PBSO, and Dep. Shawn Mancino responded to his home.

“[Fusco] showed me his cell phone video... It shows [Shults] yelling and pointing his finger towards Richard,” Mancino wrote in his report. “You can see [Shults] bend over and it appeared as if he picked up a rock from the road. [Shults] started walking towards Richard giving the appearance of aggressiveness. A blonde female walked in front of [Shults] stopping him from moving forward.”

The deputy then drove a couple of blocks to speak with Shults, whom Mancino reported “was still aggravated over the incident.”

“I attempted to calm him down,” Mancino wrote. “[Shults] looked into my eyes and said, ‘Do you know who I am? I’m a major with the Broward County Sheriff’s Department, and do you know about the incident that occurred between my wife and that fucker?’”

Mancino explained he was aware of the affair between Shults' wife and Fusco.

“I told [Shults] that regardless I expected all parties to handle this incident with tact and control,” Mancino wrote in his report. “[Shults] stated that the only thing he wants to see me do is show some empathy because we are law enforcement officers. I told [Shults] that I expect him to act as if he was working the road as an officer dealing with the same type issues walking on the line. [Shults] said that he is a 30-year veteran in law enforcement. I told him that I have been on the road for 36 years, and it would not hurt for him to take a refresher course to help him cope with stress.”

Mancino didn’t charge Shults with a crime, though it’s clear that threatening someone with a rock could fall under a state law that defines assault as “an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act coupled with an apparent ability to do so.” Before the deputy left him, the unrepentant Shults had one more threat on the record for Fusco.

“Kevin stated that he owes Richard something and Richard will pay for screwing up his family,” Mancino wrote.

Still fearing for his safety, Fusco then went to BSO internal affairs for relief. He told deputies, again, that he “just wanted Shults to leave him alone,” according to IA records. Without opening a formal investigation, deputies did a little footwork, obtaining the police reports and Fusco’s application for a restraining order, also called an injunction for protection. That injunction was ultimately denied by a judge who determined there was a lack of evidence to support a finding that there had been two incidents of stalking.

Fusco says investigators later came to his home and questioned him but did not bother to take copies of his recordings of Shults’ threats, beer throwing, or the incident involving the rock. Fusco later received a letter from Broward Sheriff’s Lt. Kevin Corbett of internal affairs.

“Please be advised that after reviewing the circumstances surrounding your complaint... no misconduct was identified,” Corbett wrote. “The matter is closed in our office at this time and no further action will be taken.”

What Fusco didn’t know is that the investigation had been scuttled at the highest levels of the agency. Col. Jack Dale, an old Shults friend from FLPD who oversees internal affairs, had intervened. A handwritten note was added to the file ordering: “NFA” — no further action. “Complaint already resolved via an administrative directive given to Major Shults via command.”

According to the initial IA report, “Major Shults was instructed by his immediate supervisor, Colonel Jack Dale, to avoid further contact with Mr. Fusco.” And that was that. No formal investigation.

Deputy Bell calls the handling of the Shults case “absurd.”

“They absolutely covered that up for [Shults],” Bell says. “It was, ‘He’s one of us — we’ve got to protect him.’ He should have immediately been removed from training without a doubt. He should have been demoted and ordered to go to anger management classes.

“Even if you give him every benefit of the doubt, it’s still at a very minimum conduct unbecoming. You can be terminated for that. It’s misuse of authority. He was clearly asking for special treatment from the [PBSO deputy] because he identified himself as a law enforcement officer.”

Bell further says the beer and rock incidents constitute possible misdemeanor battery and assault charges. BSO should have referred the case to the State Attorney’s Office for possible prosecution, he says.

No one at the sheriff’s office was willing to be interviewed for this story, including Shults and Israel, but BSO Public Information Officer Veda Coleman-Wright defended Shults in an email, noting the conduct occurred off-duty and involved a “very personal family matter.”

“BSO Internal Affairs investigated, and the major was directed to avoid contact with the complainant,” Coleman-Wright wrote. “IA handled the incident appropriately.”

She also argued that PBSO determined no crime had occurred. But Bell notes that deputies routinely refer misdemeanor complainants to the State Attorney’s Office for investigation. A former high-ranking deputy, now retired, echoes Bell’s assertion that Shults was given preferential treatment.

“Anybody else would have been investigated in that case,” says the former deputy, who declined to be named. “Anybody.”

With the case squashed, Shults went on about his job as if nothing had happened. And the threats and intimidation aimed at Fusco finally stopped. Bell and numerous others at BSO say the damage done by the “Fort Lauderdale crew” and the favoritism for its members runs deep. And they say it’s another reason why Sheriff Israel should be removed from office.

“There was a divisiveness from day one,” the anonymous retired deputy says. “You had a separation at the top. They controlled everything. If you weren’t part of the clique, you didn’t get a transfer or a promotion. It was like a power struggle going back-and-forth. There is no morale. Guys lose enthusiasm about coming to work.”

“The most ironic part of all is he teaches ethics and professionalism to deputies,” Bell says. “If he tells deputies how to act and he acts like this, how could he possibly keep his job in training?"

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