CNN’s Jake Tapper tore into a Florida sheriff Sunday about his office’s handling of over a dozen warnings from people about Nikolas Cruz, the 19-year-old who police say confessed to the deadly mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, earlier this month.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office received at least 18 phone calls between 2008 and 2017 from community members concerned about Cruz’s behavior, The Naples Daily News reported on Friday. In 2016, multiple callers told the officer they specifically feared Cruz would shoot up a school, according to the news outlet.
When Tapper confronted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel about the “missed red flags,” Israel defended his own actions and noted that an internal investigation was being conducted to determine whether his deputies appropriately handled the public tips.
“Of those 18 calls ... 16 of them, we believe, were handled exactly the way they should,” Israel said on CNN’s “State Of The Union.” “Two of them, we’re not sure if our deputies did everything they could have or should have. ... We will absolutely find out what we did or what we didn’t do.”
Tapper continued to drill in, questioning Israel whether the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 17 people dead and over a dozen others injured, might have been prevented if his office had “done things differently.” Israel offered a bizarre response:
Israel: Listen, if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, you know, uh, O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books. I don’t know what ―
Tapper: I don’t know what that means. There’s 17 people dead and ... a whole long list of things you department could have done differently.
Israel: How could I ― listen, uh, that’s what “after actions” reports are for. That’s what “lessons learned” reports are for. ... We understand everything wasn’t done perfectly, and if it happened in Los Angeles or Chicago or any other city, every person wouldn’t have performed perfectly. That’s not what happens.
Tapper pushed back against Israel’s efforts to downplay his role in the apparent missteps leading up to the massacre:
Tapper: Are you really not taking any responsibility for the multiple red flags that were brought to the attention of the Broward’s Sheriff’s Office about this shooter before the incident?
Israel: Jake, I can only take responsibility for what I knew about. I exercised my due diligence. I’ve given amazing leadership to this agency. ... There’s a lot of things we’ve done throughout ― you don’t measure a person’s leadership by a deputy not going into a ― these deputies received the training they needed ―
Tapper: Maybe you measure somebody’s leadership by whether or not they protect the community. In this case, you’ve listed 23 incidents before the shooting involving the shooter and still nothing was done to keep guns out of his hands, to make sure that the school was protected, to make sure you were keeping an eye on him, your deputy at the school failed ― I don’t know how you can sit there and claim amazing leadership.
At least one state lawmaker has called on Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) to remove Israel from his position, citing “neglect of duty and incompetence” in his handling of the warnings calls about Cruz.
“An investigation by Sheriff Israel into the unfathomable inaction of those deputies will do nothing to bring back the 17 victims,” state Rep. Bill Hager (R) wrote in a letter to Scott on Saturday. “The sheriff was fully aware of the threat this individual presented to his community and chose to ignore it.”
Israel has also come under fire following reports that several of his deputies’ opted not to enter the school after responding to the shooting. Coral Springs police officers have said they were shocked to find four deputies, including the school’s armed resource officer, had opted not to enter the building after arriving on the scene.
Deputy Scot Peterson, the resource officer, was suspended without pay last week before resigning and retiring.
Despite the mounting backlash, Israel told Tapper that he had no plans to step down and called Hager’s letter to Scott “politically motivated.”
“Deputies make mistakes, police officers make mistakes, we all make mistakes ― but it’s not the responsibility of the president or the general if you have a deserter,” Israel said.
The Broward County Sheriff’s Office responded to the accusations of inaction in a tweet on Saturday: