Ft. Lauderdale, FL – Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony suspended the head of the deputies’ union on Friday after the South Florida Sun Sentinel published a letter by the union boss criticizing the lack of personal protection equipment (PPE) being provided to Broward deputies.
The letter from Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Bell was published on April 6 and said the union had notified Sheriff Tony on March 16 and March 23 about the severe shortage of PPE “alerting him to our members’ concerns not only for their own protection but to protect the public from deputies transmitting the deadly virus while on duty.”
The letter said the sheriff did not respond to the union’s concerns.
“The only response we got was a threat of disciplinary action if we shared our First Responders’ ‘inaccurate issues’ in the media,” Deputy Bell wrote.
Some deputies were given N95 masks on March 17, but Deputy Bell’s letter said there weren’t enough masks to give one to every deputy in each district.
So, according to the letter, the union notified Sheriff Tony on March 23 that it had taken the initiative to buy 1,400 N95 masks for its members and wanted to donate them to the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO), but the sheriff never responded to the offer.
During the same time frame, Sheriff Tony repeatedly told the public that the county had enough masks and gloves to keep its first responders safe, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Deputy Bell complained in the letter that Sheriff Tony had been “social distancing” with the union for more than 400 days, having refused to have any face-to-face meetings long before the pandemic began.
He also accused the sheriff of unprofessional and unbecoming conduct for losing his temper at a group of grieving deputies outside North Broward Hospital on April 4 as they waited to escort fallen BSO Deputy Shannon Bennett’s body to the funeral home.
Deputy Bennett, 39, died one week after he tested positive for coronavirus.
Deputy Bell’s letter accused Sheriff Tony of sitting by and doing nothing while deputies were being exposed and testing positive for COVID-19.
“While BSO employees are being exposed and testing positive for Covid-19, Tony has been politically fiddling with the facts like Nero as Rome burned; holding press conferences to state everything is fine,” Deputy Bell wrote.
He also asserted that the sheriff wasn’t qualified to be leading the department through the pandemic.
“Tony, who was picked by Gov. Ron DeSantis to replace former Sheriff Scott Israel, talked his way into our Public Safety Building with claims to being an ‘expert’ regarding such emergencies,” he wrote. “COVID-19 has peeled away the curtains and exposed Tony for the salesman he is. With less law enforcement experience than most BSO road patrol deputies and sergeants, Tony is simply overwhelmed by this public safety emergency.”
Sheriff Tony fired back at Deputy Bell on Friday, and suspended the union boss with pay, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
“For any rogue employee to come off and present these comments that we have failed this community and failed the men and women that we are leading is despicable,” Sheriff Tony told reporters earlier in the week.
The sheriff has alleged that Deputy Bell made false statements, has corrupt practices, has failed to use proper discretion, and has engaged in conduct unbecoming a BSO deputy.
Deputy Bell has been a member of the BSO for 24 years and president of the BSO Deputies Association Local 6020 since 2013, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
Fifty-nine BSO employees had tested positive for coronavirus as of Friday, and 226 were being monitored for the virus after exhibiting symptoms or having confirmed exposures.
Deputies received the desperately needed PPE gear a few hours before Sheriff Tony suspended Deputy Bell, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.
“This is a shameful suspension,” Deputy Bell’s attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, told WSVN. “It is union-busting. It is his right to speak up on behalf of these deputies, and to suspend him for that is illegal, shameful and reprehensible.”