For a moment, Broward Sheriff Scott Israel seemed like a breakout media voice in the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. As he sparred with the NRA's Dana Loesch at CNN's town hall last week, his national clout exploded.
But since then, Israel has been buffeted by terrible stories: An armed BSO cop at the school didn't try to stop Nikolas Cruz as he killed 17 people, at least three other Broward officers allegedly stayed in the parking lot during the massacre, and BSO missed numerous tips and chances to charge Cruz with crimes that might have prevented him from carrying out the mass shooting.
Israel's response to the numerous, catastrophic failures on his watch? It's not my fault! In several TV interviews this weekend, Broward's top cop repeatedly insisted he can't be blamed for all the screwups at BSO — the massive agency he's elected to run.
“I’ve given amazing leadership to this agency,” Israel bafflingly told Jake Tapper Saturday.
A political firestorm has erupted around the Democratic sheriff, with nearly every GOP politician in Tallahassee calling for his ouster. Gov. Rick Scott has resisted those calls so far, but Sunday he ordered the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to open an official probe into BSO's response to the shootings.
"I have spoken to [House Speaker Richard] Corcoran about his request" that Israel be suspended, Scott said in a statement. "I understand his concerns. I have spoken to the Speaker regularly since the shooting and, like me, he wants the families to have answers and for there to be full accountability."
Israel's leadership is now the hottest potato in the raging firestorm that has engulfed Tallahassee after the shooting. And the sheriff is doing no favors for his fellow Democrats by trying to keep the conversation focused on gun control.
It's hard to overstate just how bad Israel's interviews have been this weekend. Tapper, in particular, took Israel to the woodshed as the sheriff repeatedly dodged responsibility for BSO's well-documented failures in Parkland.
The day after CNN's town hall, Israel announced that Officer Scot Peterson, the BSO cop who worked full-time at Stoneman Douglas, had resigned rather than be fired after admitting he made no effort to confront Cruz during the shooting. When Tapper pressed the sheriff on whether, as Peterson's boss, he had some responsibility for that failure, Israel bristled.
“I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence," Israel said.
Tapper pushed Israel: Don't you think Cruz could have been stopped if BSO had heeded some of the tips that had come in through the years that he was violent and stockpiling guns? Or couldn't the massacre have been limited if Peterson or the other BSO cops had confronted him?
Israel responded with an all-time non sequitur: “If its and buts were candy and nuts, OJ Simpson would still be in the record books."
Dude, what are you talking about?
As Israel floundered on TV, the Florida GOP — which endured its own nightmare week as furious high schoolers called out the NRA-controlled party for enabling mass shooters such as Cruz to arm themselves with military-style weapons — pounced on the top cop.
Corcoran and dozens of other Republicans demanded Scott immediately suspend the sheriff. They wrote that “the failures of Sheriff Israel and his deputies during and after the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School... and their failures to intervene regarding Nikolas Jacob Cruz in the years, months, and days leading up to that shooting, are unacceptable and unforgivable.”
Scott generally suspends elected officials only when they have been indicted. That might be the reason in this case he elected to begin the FDLE probe instead of directly attacking the sheriff.
There's no doubt the GOP sees Israel's failures and his repeated TV embarrassment as a convenient way to deflect attention from the gun-control measures gaining momentum in Tally for the first time in decades. But it's also true that BSO failed the students at Stoneman Douglas and that Israel has declined to take responsibility for those failures.
The sheriff said this morning he won't resign. State Democrats will have to decide whether letting the Scott-Israel carnival continue for another week will hurt their gun-control chances or whether it would be safer to join Republicans to demand the sheriff's ouster.
Either way, Israel should probably cool it with the TV interviews for a while.
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