Gov. DeSantis considering punishment for Broward sheriff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Tuesday he will decide soon whether to suspend a major county’s sheriff after state investigators found he lied on police applications about killing someone as a teen, his past drug use and his driving record.

DeSantis said he will discuss Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony’s future with his aides before deciding what to do next. DeSantis appointed Tony sheriff in January 2019, just days after taking office. He had fired Tony’s predecessor, Scott Israel, for his alleged mishandling of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in February 2018, a decision that was upheld by the Florida Senate.ADVERTISEMENT

“We are going to review everything, take a look. We saw the initial report. It will be something we will be reviewing in the coming days,” DeSantis said at a Miami press conference. He did not comment further. Under Florida law, the governor can permanently or temporarily suspend any local elected official for malfeasance or other infractions, with the official having the right to appeal the decision to the Senate.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement report issued late Monday said Tony repeatedly lied on his police applications, including failing to disclose that he fatally shot another teenager during a fight when he was 14. Tony was later found to have acted in self-defense and acquitted, but the applications required the disclosure of all arrests no matter the court decision.

The FDLE said Tony could not be criminally charged because the false statements happened so long ago the statute of limitations had expired. The agency has turned its report over to the state ethics commission for its consideration. That commission could also recommend DeSantis suspend Tony.

A Broward Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman on Tuesday directed all questions about Tony to a Miami law firm, which did not immediately respond to an email it requested seeking comment. The FDLE report says Tony declined to be interviewed by investigators.

Before becoming sheriff, Tony worked for the Coral Springs Police Department from 2005 until 2016, working his way up to sergeant. He resigned to run a police consulting firm that specialized in active shooter training. DeSantis appointed him on the recommendation of the father of a Stoneman Douglas victim who knew him from the gym where they both worked out. The vetting process was completed in days.

The FDLE investigation of Tony, 43, began after a local news website, the Florida Bulldog, revealed in May 2020 that Tony had fatally shot with his father’s gun an 18-year-old neighbor during a fight at his Philadelphia home in 1993. He was charged with murder, but was acquitted in juvenile court after arguing he was defending himself and his family.

The 20-page FDLE report said Tony lied by answering “no” when asked if he had ever been arrested for a felony when he successfully applied to the police academy in 2004 and again when Coral Springs hired him in 2005. It said he also falsely answered “no” on a Coral Springs background questionnaire when asked “Have you ever injured or caused the death of another person?” and “Were you ever in a fight involving a weapon?”

The investigation found that in 2003, Tony answered truthfully that he had once used LSD as a teenager when he applied for a job with the Tallahassee Police Department, his first law enforcement application. After that admission caused his rejection, investigators found that on subsequent police applications Tony answered “no” when asked if he had ever used or handled hallucinogenic drugs.

Investigators say Tony also repeatedly lied on police and Florida driver’s license applications by answering “no” when asked if his license was ever suspended. Pennsylvania had suspended his license in 1996 for failing to pay traffic tickets. That last happened in 2019 when he applied for a new license shortly after he became sheriff.

In the August 2020 Democratic primary, three months after the Florida Bulldog’s revelation, Tony defeated former sheriff Israel, who was trying to get his job back. That November, Tony easily defeated his Republican opponent in the general election to win a four-year term.