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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspends Broward Sheriff Scott Israel over Parkland massacre response

Fort Lauderdale, Fla. -- Florida's new governor has suspended the sheriff whose deputies were assigned to protect the Parkland school where 17 people died in a massacre last February. Gov. Ron DeSantis removed Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Friday. He appointed former Coral Springs police Sgt. Gregory Tony to replace Israel.

During the campaign, DeSantis originally said he would suspend Israel, but then backed off slightly, saying he would hold officeholders accountable. DeSantis tweeted Friday that the suspension was over Israel's "repeated failures, incompetence and neglect of duty."

FILE PHOTO:    Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel speaks before the start of a CNN town hall meeting at the BB&T Center, in Sunrise
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel on Feb. 21, 2018. POOL / REUTERS

"The massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff's department," DeSantis said.

A state commission investigating the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School recently concluded Israel's changes to the department's active shooter policy may have contributed to some deputies' inaction during the shooting. DeSantis' executive order says that Israel inserted into the department's active shooter policy that deputies "may" enter a building to confront a shooter in order to preserve life.

As such, it says, deputy Scot Peterson, the only armed deputy on campus the day of the massacre, "exercised the discretion of Sheriff Israel" when he failed to confront the shooter. It also notes that six nearby Broward sheriff's deputies "did not immediately move towards the gunshots to confront the shooter."

The executive order references 21 previous interactions with gunman Nikolas Cruz,  including a social media threat to "shoot up the school" and a tip that he had weapons and "might be a Columbine in the making."

Speaking at a press conference Friday, Israel called the suspension "unjustified" and vowed to fight it in court and before the Florida Senate.

"Let me be clear -- I wholeheartedly reject the statements in the governor's executive order," Israel said. "They are lacking both in legal merit and valid  factual basis. There was no wrongdoing on my part. I served the country honorably."

Israel said his suspension amounted to the newly seated governor fulfilling a campaign promise he made well before the commission issued its findings on the massacre response.

"This was about politics, not Parkland," Israel said.

DeSantis' Republican predecessor, now-Sen. Rick Scott, had refused to suspend the sheriff, saying he wanted to wait until investigations were complete before deciding.

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