A former sheriff in Florida who was suspended over the heavily criticized police handling of a 2018 mass shooting that left 17 people dead at a high school sued the state’s governor on Thursday in an effort to reclaim his job.
Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, in January suspended Democrat Scott Israel just days after taking office, saying the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School might “never have happened” if the Broward Sheriff’s Office had been better led.
Israel has said DeSantis suspended him because his outspoken gun control stance angered the National Rifle Association, which endorsed DeSantis in his campaign for governor last year.
A state-appointed commission, in a report on the mass shooting issued shortly before DeSantis suspended Israel, found some Broward County sheriff’s deputies held back too long, instead of rushing toward the gunfire.
Israel’s lawsuit, which was filed in Broward County where he was first elected sheriff in 2012, acknowledged DeSantis has the authority under the Florida Constitution to suspend a public official, but said that in the sheriff’s case the action was unwarranted.
“Governor DeSantis exceeded his constitutional authority in suspending Sheriff Israel for political reasons not within the scope of the constitutional suspension prerogative,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit added that Israel, who has faced criticism from parents of students killed at the high school, is “entitled to reinstatement as Broward County sheriff.”
Reuters could not immediately reach Israel’s attorney, Ben Kuehne, by phone on Thursday.
DeSantis, aside from rebuking Israel after the shooting at the high school in Parkland, about 40 miles (60 km) north of Miami, has also criticized his handling of a 2017 mass shooting at a Fort Lauderdale airport by a gunman who killed five people.
“It is lamentable that Scott Israel refuses to be held accountable for his actions and continues to hold disregard for the law,” DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre said in a statement.
The filing of the lawsuit could set the stage for the political battle over Israel’s suspension to play out in court instead of the state legislature, which has authority to review the governor’s action.
A hearing had been expected in the state Senate on DeSantis’ suspension of Israel. But Florida Senate President Bill Galvano, a Republican, told reporters on Thursday that process is likely to be put on hold because of the lawsuit.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker