TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With a hearing poised to start next week on the fate of suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, one of his attorneys suggested Monday that the case could be affected by the arrest of Scot Peterson, the former resource officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Israel has appealed to the Florida Senate as he fights his ouster by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who alleged that “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” by Israel were connected to the February 2018 mass shooting at the Parkland high school that killed 17 people.
The Senate has the authority to reinstate or remove elected officials, and Senate Special Master Dudley Goodlette is scheduled June 18 to begin what could be a multi-day hearing on Israel’s appeal. Goodlette, a former lawmaker, ultimately will make a recommendation to the Senate about whether Israel should be reinstated.
During a pre-hearing conference Monday, Benedict Kuehne, one of Israel’s attorneys, contended that information in a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation of Peterson could help Israel’s case. Kuehne said he thinks the hearing can move forward next week, but he urged keeping the case “open” before a final decision is reached. That could allow consideration of information that becomes available in the Peterson criminal case.
“We believe that there may be significant information in the FDLE files, that ultimately become the state attorney’s files, that are favorable to Sheriff Israel, particularly with regard to the allegations in this matter that he was incompetent and neglected his duties,” Kuehne said.
But Nicholas Primrose, an attorney for DeSantis, rejected the idea of a connection between Israel’s appeal and the Peterson criminal case.
“To suggest that somehow the outcome of what happens with Scot Peterson’s criminal trial has any impact on the Senate’s review of whether Scott Israel neglected his duty or was incompetent, I think … they’re two separate issues,” Primrose said.
Peterson, who retired as a deputy after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, was arrested last week on seven counts of neglect of a child, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury. Among other things, Peterson is accused of refusing to investigate when he heard gunshots on campus and retreating while students and faculty members were shot and killed.
During the pre-hearing conference Monday, Kuehne said documents in the Peterson investigation could reveal information about issues such as training that the former deputy received on use-of-force and active-shooter scenarios. He said such information “seems to be inconsistent” with DeSantis’ allegations that Israel was incompetent or negligent in administering the sheriff’s office.
Goodlette directed Kuehne to file a brief on the Peterson-related issues by 5 p.m. Tuesday and Primrose to follow with a brief by 5 p.m. Wednesday. But Goodlette also said he planned to start the hearing as scheduled next week, unless the two sides are “directed otherwise.”