Sheriff Gregory Tony doesn’t want Broward County voters to forget who was in charge on Feb. 14, 2018, the day a gunman killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Tony is taking the offensive ahead of the Aug. 18 Democratic primary, unveiling an endorsement from a group of Parkland families and sending out mailers attacking his opponent and predecessor Scott Israel.
Stand with Parkland, which represents 14 of the 17 Parkland families, announced its endorsement of Tony in a virtual news conference Thursday.
“We are compelled to remind voters that because of Mr. Israel’s incompetent leadership the sheriff’s office failed our community and indeed our families when we needed them most,” said Tony Montalto, president of Stand with Parkland. “Yet, that neglectful leader has the audacity to ask voters for a second chance.”
Montalto’s 14-year-old daughter, Gina, died in the massacre.
“Let’s be clear, the 14 children and three teachers killed in school that day don’t get the benefit of a second chance to come back to us,” he added.
Tony’s campaign sent out mailers attacking Israel’s leadership of Broward Sheriff’s Office. The ad shows a black-clad gunman peering into a classroom filled with backpacks.
“Broward knows too well the cost of failure ... to protect our schools,” the flyer reads.
Israel said he has empathy for the Parkland families, but he has also earned the support of many people in the community affected by daily gun violence.
“You don’t run for sheriff for one small city and represent a few people in that small city,” Israel said in an interview with the South Florida Sun Sentinel editorial board. “It’s not called the sheriff of Parkland. It’s called the sheriff of Broward County.”
The Parkland shooting led to Israel’s political downfall. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Israel from office in January 2019, citing “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”
Israel’s agency received criticism for botching tips that could have prevented the shooting and not rushing in to confront the shooter.
DeSantis named Tony sheriff in a news conference at the Broward Sheriff’s Office headquarters. Several Parkland families stood behind him.
The Republican-controlled Senate upheld the removal, going against an independent special investigator’s recommendation that Israel be reinstated.
Israel said there were individual failures by deputies who failed to confront the shooter, but there weren’t “systemic failures” by the agency.
Fred Guttenberg, one of the parents who stood with Tony when he became sheriff, said he still has his support. Guttenberg’s 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, died in the shooting.
“[Israel] was removed because my daughter died on his watch,” Guttenberg said. “This proud Democrat stood with Greg Tony on that day, and I stand with Greg Tony today.”
Other candidates in the Democratic race include retired BSO Col. Al Pollock and former BSO deputies Willie Jones, Andrew Smalling and Santiago Vazquez Jr.
Skyler Swisher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 561-243-6634 or @SkylerSwisher.
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