A Florida sheriff who has become the face of police response to this month's deadly high school shooting has come under mounting criticism for his deputies' response to the shooting and potential warning signs as dozens of state lawmakers called for his removal.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel insisted that only one of his armed deputies is so far known to have been at fault for staying outside the school while it was under attack rather than entering to confront the gunman who shot 17 people to death.
That deputy, who was identified as the school's assigned resource officer, Scot Peterson, has resigned rather than face suspension and possible dismissal after his actions were caught on video during the massacre, Israel acknowledged last week.
Multiple news outlets like CNN and NBC have since reported that at least three more armed Broward County sheriff's deputies were present on the scene, taking cover behind their vehicles instead of immediately entering the school.
Israel dismissed those reports based on unnamed sources from the neighboring Coral Springs Police Department, as politically motivated.
“Our investigation to this point shows that during this horrific attack, while this killer was inside the school, there was only one law enforcement person, period, and that was former deputy Scot Peterson,” Israel told CNN Sunday.
He did not rule out that the investigation could find other deputies who failed to act properly during or immediately after the Feb. 14 massacre, which authorities say lasted about six or seven minutes.
Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old former student dismissed from the school last year for disciplinary reasons, was later arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Authorities say Cruz fled the scene by blending in with terrified students evacuating the school and was later approached after walking to a nearby Walmart and stopping at two fast-food outlets.
Israel defended his department from criticism that his deputies overlooked a number of red flags that Cruz posted a threat of violence.
“I can only take responsibility for what I knew about,” Israel, a Democrat, told CNN, adding that he had “given amazing leadership” since he was first elected sheriff in 2012.
Aside from Peterson's resignation, Israel has previously said two other deputies have been placed on restricted duty pending an internal review of whether they properly handled two phone tips from 2016 and 2017 that warned Cruz was collecting weapons and might be inclined to commit a school shooting.
Others disagreed when the sheriff told CNN that other "calls for service" his department received about Cruz before the massacre were properly handled.
A letter signed Sunday by 74 Republican members of the Florida House of Representatives urged Florida governor Rick Scott, also a Republican, to suspend Israel under a provision the state constitution that lets a governor remove a sheriff.
“In the years leading up to this unspeakable tragedy, Sheriff Israel, his deputies and staff ignored repeated warning signs about the violent, erratic, threatening and antisocial behavior” of the accused gunman, the letter said. It cited additional questions raised about the actions of the first deputies on the scene of the shooting.