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Broward Sheriff Avoids the Spotlight As His Supporters Rally

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, center in uniform, is facing criticism over his department's response to last month's Parkland, Fla. school shooting.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, center in uniform, is facing criticism over his department's response to last month's Parkland, Fla. school shooting.

More than 100 people, many of them clergy from local churches, gathered outside the Word of the Living God Ministries in Pompano Beach, Fl.

"We've come today to say yes, we support Sheriff Scott Israel," said Rev. Anthony Burrell, speaking on behalf of the assembled clergy, who expressed their agreement in a chorus of "amen" and "yes, sir."

"And to Jake Tapper on CNN," Burrell added this: "Yes, he IS doing an amazing job!"

That's a reference to Sheriff Israel's bruising appearance on CNN's State of the Union last Sunday. The sheriff responded to questions from host Tapper by insisting that "I've given amazing leadership to this agency," both before and since the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Many Republican lawmakers in Florida don't agree. More than 70 of them signed a letter urging Gov. Rick Scott, their fellow Republican, to suspend Israel, a Democrat. The governor has ordered an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and says he wants to see the results before he makes a decision about Sheriff Israel.

"Kids died because of the response of his department," said State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from nearby Brevard County. "That's what he needs to be focused on, and that's why he needs to be held accountable."

But the embattled Broward sheriff has his supporters, too.

"We are grateful for the leadership of Sheriff Scott Israel," said Burrell. He pointed specifically to the office's civil citation program, which is intended to help youthful offenders avoid a permanent criminal record, and to the diversification of leadership at the Broward Sheriff's Office.

The event with clergy from across the county was supposed to demonstrate grassroots support for Israel. The Miami Herald reported that organizers handed out a press release before the event praising the sheriff for being "transparent, accountable and visible."

The sheriff stayed for just a few minutes, and left without speaking to the media outside the church.

More than two weeks after the shooting, there are lingering questions about how Israel's deputies handled themselves.

Reporting by the Miami Herald and Fox News suggests that a supervisor in the Broward Sheriff's Office gave deputies the order to form a perimeter around the school, instead of rushing in to confront the shooter. But the exact timing of those orders remains unclear; they could have come after the shooting had ended.

One Broward deputy, Scot Peterson, has already resigned. Israel says the former school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas was on campus when the shooting occurred, but a surveillance video shows that he waited outside the school for minutes instead of moving toward the shooter.

There are signs of growing frustration among deputies inside the sheriff's office.

"Some of our guys, they're getting unnecessary comments from the public in restaurants and shops of being called a coward," said Jeff Bell, the president of the Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association.

The union is calling on Sheriff Israel to release video surveillance tapes and dispatch logs from the day of the shooting. So far, the sheriff's office has declined to do so, citing the ongoing investigation.

Sheriff Israel's defenders say none of this should cost him his job.

"We feel there's been an attack against him," said Burrell. "To have political officials come and ask for the resignation of the sheriff because of the duty, or the lack of duty, of one of his officers, we think was un-called for."

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