The Florida sheriff who's dodged the media amid heavy criticism of his department’s handling of the Parkland school shooting appeared agitated this week when a reporter asked if he will ever take responsibility.
In the hours following the Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel frequently appeared on television channels and news websites, as he criticized everyone from local politicians to the NRA to one of his own officers for failing to respond.
But after calls to resign from lawmakers due to a failure to notice warning signs regarding the shooter, a rocky interview on CNN in late February and the subsequent release of a video showing Broward Deputy Scot Peterson standing idle outside the high school as the attack unfolded, Israel has kept away from the media -- until he was tracked down earlier this week by WPLG Local 10 News reporter Bob Norman.
“How do you have time to politick when you got all these problems?” Norman asks Israel as he's seen leaving a meeting of the Weston Democratic Club.
“As I’ve said before, your stories have never been balanced,” Israel responds, adding he is “very disappointed” with the reporter.
“This isn’t about me sheriff,” Norman says, cutting Israel off. “I’m sorry this isn’t about me. No. There’s 17 dead people…You haven’t heard about the country being disappointed in you and the BSO?”
Later on in the heated exchange, Israel says he wants to wait for an investigative report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement – ordered by Gov. Rick Scott – before commenting on his agency’s handling of the attack.
“Are you ever going to take responsibility for what happened at Stoneman Douglas?” Norman asks.
“When the report is in we will have that conversation, Bob, and you seem to be getting right angry now,” Israel responds, before slamming his police cruiser door shut.
The confrontation came just a week after Jeff Bell, president of the Broward County Sheriff's Deputies Association, told the station the rank-and-file is considering a vote of no-confidence against Israel.
The FDLE told Fox News on Wednesday that its investigation of how police handled the school shooting is “in the early stages” and that it “cannot provide a timetable of when it may be completed.”
Gov. Scott called for the probe in February after receiving two letters, one from State Rep. Bill Hager and the other from Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran – cosigned by 73 Republican colleagues – that demanded Israel’s removal.
In Corcoran’s letter, he wrote that in the “years leading up to this unspeakable tragedy, Sheriff Israel, his deputies, and staff ignored repeated warning signs about the violent, erratic, threatening and antisocial behavior of Nikolas Jacob Cruz.”
Scott said in February that he "asked for FDLE to immediately investigate the law enforcement response and will continue to review this matter as more facts come out.
"There must be an independent investigation and that is why I asked the FDLE Commissioner to immediately start this process," he added. "I have spoken to Speaker Corcoran about his request and I understand his concerns."
Scott's deputy communications director, McKinley P. Lewis, told Fox News on Thursday that the governor still stands by that statement.
Cororcan’s office did not respond to a request for comment from Fox News.
But local and state Democrats say the facts need to come out before a fair opinion can be made about Israel, and that Republicans are merely trying to shift the focus away from other hot-button topics such as gun control, the Miami Herald reported.
“It’s just a distraction,” Cynthia Busch, chairwoman of the Broward Democratic Party, told the newspaper in late February.
While Bob Norman was able to track down Israel on Monday, other reporters were left in the dark a few weeks ago.
During a prayer meeting held in his support on March 1 at a Pompano Beach church, Israel sneaked in and out of the facility through a side door to avoid the media, who were barred from covering the event, according to the Miami Herald.
“We don’t want you in the church,” Pastor John Mohorn, a former member of the BSO’s chaplain office, was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
An attendee there said Israel went inside for about a half hour before quietly making his way out.
A pastor who spoke to reporters after the event, said “there’s been an attack against [Israel] by elected officials.”
Former colleagues and associates of Israel who spoke to the New Yorker in mid-March have called him a “hothead” who never talked in detail about crime and appeared more concerned with “putting his picture on the side of trucks.” But Israel’s public information officer told the magazine the claims were “shameful, baseless and patently false.”
Police department sources told WPLG Local 10 News that Israel privately has vowed to not go anywhere and will run again for the sheriff’s position in 2020 – even if Scott removes him from his post.