Broward County Sheriff sacks deputy union head amid COVID-19 dispute

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The sheriff of Broward County, Fla., has fired the head of the sheriff's office deputies union amid a three-year dispute that escalated over accusations that the sheriff was not providing officers with proper protective gear against COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.

In a statement on Thursday, Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said he fired Broward Sheriff's Office Deputies Association head Jeff Bell for engaging in "corrupt practices" and "conduct unbecoming" to his position, according to the AP. He also claimed Bell lied to local media outlets about him in an attempt to prevent his election to a full term in November 2020.

Tony additionally said that the firing was unanimously recommended by the sheriff's office's professional standards board.

"The evidence shows Bell used corrupt practices to try to prevent me from being elected sheriff by providing misinformation and lies to the media to create fear and distrust among [Broward Sheriff's Office] employees and within the community during a global pandemic," Tony said in his statement.

"This type of behavior is egregious at any time but even more harmful and shameful during an unprecedented health crisis," Tony continued.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Tony as county sheriff in 2019 after dismissing the previous sheriff, Scott Israel, due to his alleged mishandling of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, according to the AP.

Bell, a 26-year veteran of the sheriff's office who has been president of the 1,400 member union since 2015, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he would fight his firing in court, the AP reported.

"This is so personal for Greg Tony," Bell told the newspaper. "He cannot separate business from personal. Anything you bring against the sheriff office, he looks as a personal attack against him."

The dispute between Tony and Bell began after the sheriff disciplined deputies for allegedly using excessive force, according to the AP. Bell claimed that the deputies had been acting on policy changes Tony had made, while the sheriff denied making any policy changes.

Their feud reached a boiling point after three officers and six civilian employees died from COVID-19, with Bell writing an op-ed for the Sun Sentinel accusing Tony of not providing sufficient masks and other protection for officers during the early days of the pandemic, the AP reported.

"Tony has been politically fiddling with facts like Nero as Rome burned," Bell wrote in the op-ed. "This so-called BSO savior, the man who rode into office with the support of distraught Parkland parents and this union, has failed to provide leadership."

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