Florida governor suspends sheriff for response to school massacre

By Letitia Stein

TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday suspended the local sheriff criticized for the police response to last year's mass shooting that left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

DeSantis said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel showed leadership failures in the shooting that left 14 students and three adults dead at the hands of a lone gunman on Feb. 14, 2018.

"The massacre might never have happened had Broward had better leadership in the sheriff's department," DeSantis said during a news conference outside the Broward Sheriff's Office headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

Israel, a Democrat who has served as the elected sheriff of the agency with 5,800 employees since 2013, accused the newly elected Republican governor of a power grab. He said he was suspended only because his outspoken gun control stance angered the National Rifle Association.

He vowed to defend his record in court and before the state Senate, which may hear his case.

"There was no wrongdoing on my part," Israel told reporters after he was removed from office. "This was about politics, not about Parkland."

DeSantis, sworn into office earlier this week, criticized the sheriff during his campaign and had signaled that he would likely remove Israel from office.

He was joined on Friday by some parents of slain students at the high school who supported his move.

"My daughter would have lived if somebody could have just given her one more second," said Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among the mass shooting victims.

A state-appointed commission has identified multiple failings in Israel's agency's response to the shooting.

Some Broward County sheriff's deputies held back too long as shots were fired at the school in the massacre, instead of rushing toward the gunfire, according to a 439-page report released last week by the commission.

Broward County Sheriff's Office training on active shooters was inadequate, according to the report, which recommended arming teachers and spending more on school security and mental health to prevent similar mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Tom Brown)

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