Sheriff Tells Staff He'll Be Removed From Office but Vows to Fight

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DeSantis, left, may dump Scott Israel, but there is a lot more work to do.
Gage Skidmore/Broward Sheriff's Office
Broward Sheriff Scott Israel has informed numerous high-ranking BSO members that he expects to be removed from his position and will fight to get his job back, according to three sources close to the agency.

As Ron DeSantis prepares to be sworn in as Florida's governor today, those sources say Israel has been bracing for his removal and has told underlings he will appeal it, a move that will likely lead to a trial in the Florida Senate.

DeSantis has said the issue will be among his first orders of business. He hinted during a press conference Monday that he is considering replacements for Israel.

The sheriff has come under intense criticism for his agency’s abysmal response to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last year, for false public statements, and for his failure to accept any responsibility for BSO’s performance.

After the shooting, Israel wrote in a letter to Gov. Rick Scott that BSO school resource officer Scott Peterson, who was allowed to resign after the shooting, was the only deputy at Stoneman Douglas while shots were being fired. A simple check of radio transmissions, however, showed several deputies responding to the school failed to go inside while gunshots sounded.

At the same time, Israel touted his own “amazing leadership” and compared himself to a general who is not responsible for the actions of individual soldiers.

Israel’s removal would be only the beginning, says Deputy Jeff Bell, the BSO union chief and member of DeSantis’ transition team. The move “would remove an incompetent sheriff,” Bell says. “But if you’re looking to fix the agency and put it on the right track, it does nothing to do that.”

He says Israel’s numerous imported cronies and political hires need to be swept out, a sentiment echoed by retired BSO Sgt. Willie Jones, who finished second to Israel in the 2016 Democratic primary. “Top administrators must be looked at real quickly and very closely,” says Jones, who plans to run again in 2020. “You must restore the trust to the community to know that the sheriff’s office is going to do the things they need to do to make them safe.”

Both agree cleaning house at BSO will be a massive undertaking, one that would save taxpayers millions of dollars. The agency has always suffered from cronyism, but Israel turned it into a political cesspool after his 2012 election, adding a dizzying number of political appointments that had nothing do with law enforcement.

“They vowed their allegiance to Scott Israel, not to the community,” says Jones of the political hires. “We need leaders who are not going to kiss the ring, but who are committed to the community.”

When he took office, Israel installed his campaign strategist, Ron Gunzburger, as BSO general counsel, at a salary well over $200,000. Israel also put two of his earliest political supporters, Pembroke Pines Commissioner Angelo Castillo and his wife Lisa, on the BSO payroll, despite their lack of law enforcement experience. Angelo has bounced from job to job at the agency while Lisa has endured as Israel’s chief of staff. Between them, the couple soaks up more than $250,000 a year in salary.

Israel started to hire his campaign manager, Amy Rose, at BSO after his election, but that was derailed when legal problems showed up on Rose’s background check. Undeterred, Israel then placed Rose’s husband, Wally Eccleston, on the payroll as BSO’s “community outreach manager” at about $80,000 a year.
Eccleston would oversee a community outreach team that Israel stacked with political supporters and cronies.

He hired former newspaper columnist Elgin Jones, who had served as a media attack dog for him during his initial campaign, as “community affairs manager,” again at about $80,000 a year.

Israel also hired three of controversial political consultant Roger Stone’s associates at BSO. Stone helped Israel with his campaign and the two became friends, despite Stone being a right-wing consultant best known for his long history of dirty tricks and his role as Donald Trump’s long-time political advisor.

Israel essentially transformed the community affairs division into a bloated extension of his campaign.

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Stone is currently under investigation in the Mueller probe and has said he expects to be indicted. Israel is a Democrat (he changed parties from Republican before his first campaign in 2008).

Israel put Stone’s personal assistant, Dianne Thorn, on the public payroll as staff assistant at $68,000 per year. He made Michael Colapietro, who has coauthored political books with Stone, a BSO “community affairs specialist” at $55,000 per year. And he installed Lisa Hobbs, the girlfriend of one of Stone’s political assistants, as a community affairs specialist at $66,000. Both Hobbs and Thorne have since departed the agency.

Israel then put another politico, Kevin Ryan, on the community affairs team. What Ryan knew about the Broward community is a mystery; he’s a transplanted New Yorker and former president of the Northeast Queens Republican Club who, interestingly, hosted a book signing for Stone in his previous position. As a “community affairs specialist,” Ryan is making about $67,000.

Israel essentially transformed the community affairs division into a bloated extension of his campaign. He hired Stephen Greenberger, a political fundraiser, as a liaison at $68,000. Democratic activists Patrick Jabouin and Patty Lynn were placed on the community affairs team as well, at salaries of $61,000 each.

Finally, Israel also hired state Rep. Shevrin Jones as a “research specialist.” Jones is working part-time in the position, which pays more than $60,000 per year full-time.

Both Bell and Willie Jones said removing Israel’s political hires will be paramount for any replacement DeSantis chooses. Bell noted that savings in the community affairs department could be used to hire deputies to fill 200 vacancies.

“[Israel] has been diverting money from law enforcement to community affairs to make himself look better and to make him get reelected,” he says.

Then there’s Israel’s hiring of friends from his former employer, the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. In essence, Israel replaced existing BSO leaders with a good-old-boys network of his own. Among that group are Undersheriff Steve Kinsey, Col. Jack Dale, Col. Tom Harrington, Col. Frank Adderley, Col. Jim Polan, Maj. Kevin Shults, and Maj. Jonathan Appel.

“Those positions can be filled with people with great skill sets from within the agency that can fill those voids immediately,” says Willie Jones. “They’ve been there their entire careers so they can come in right away. The most important thing to do is to restore the trust to the community for this agency.”