Florida’s Supreme Court dealt a blow Tuesday to Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, ruling Gov. Ron DeSantis had the legal authority to remove the embattled lawman from office amid widespread criticism Israel failed to prevent the Parkland high school shooting.
The state’s highest court said DeSantis was within his rights when he suspended Israel from the Broward post in January. The justices noted, however, that, under the Florida Constitution, the state Senate is responsible for deciding whether the removal should be permanent.
"Today's Florida Supreme Court opinion leaves no doubt of my authority as governor to suspend a government official for neglect of duty and incompetence," DeSantis said in a statement shortly after the decision was handed down. "Scott Israel failed in his duties to protect the families and students of Broward County, and the time for delay tactics is at an end. I look forward to the Florida Senate resuming the process of formal removal."
The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for May 28, according to the Associated Press.
Israel's lawyers argued during the case that DeSantis overstepped his constitutional authority and interfered with the public's right to elect the sheriff. He intends to challenge the suspension in the Florida Senate, his lawyer said.
"With today's ruling, local elected officials now need to be aware of the potential for governor overreach when discharging their duties," Israel's attorney Ben Kuehne said.
Calls for Israel's ouster began shortly after the high school shooting massacre when it was revealed the deputy assigned as the school's resource officer, Scot Peterson, had not gone into the building to confront the shooter, but instead took cover outside.
The heat on Israel increased after it emerged the sheriff's office received -- and disregarded -- calls in 2016 and 2017 warning that Nikolas Cruz, who carried out the bloodbath, was a potential school shooter. Deputies also had about 20 contacts with Cruz as a juvenile — mostly due to arguments with his now-deceased mother.
Israel has said none of those contacts warranted an arrest. Law enforcement members of the state commission investigating the shooting have agreed with that conclusion.
Cruz remains jailed, charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.