The head of Broward County deputies’ largest union was suspended Friday after spending the past few weeks accusing Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony of a failure of leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a memo to Jeff Bell, the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association president, the sheriff’s office suspended Bell with pay and accused him of corrupt practices, conduct unbecoming an employee, and violations of policy on truthfulness, employee statements and discretion.
“Effective immediately, you are being placed on Suspension with Pay from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office …” the memo read.
Veda Coleman-Wright, the sheriff’s office public information office director, said in an email that Tony would not be commenting on the active internal affairs investigation.
Bell’s attorney, Eric Schwartzreich, reached Friday night, said Bell was suspended because he was a union president vocalizing concerns over first responders not having personal protection equipment
“It is shameful. It is illegal and in violation of state and federal laws,” Schwartzreich said. “Now more than ever when all of our citizens are under shelter-in-place orders and our deputies stick their lives out on the line for us, we need to make sure they are protected.”-
In an April 4 letter written by Bell to union members, he mentioned the death of 39-year-old Broward County Deputy Shannon Bennett, the first South Florida law enforcement officer to die from COVID-19, and then discussed the sheriff’s office’s lack of personal protective equipment.
“The union will continue to be vocal against our sheriff who seems to think posting Instagram photos of himself working out, photo ops and censoring critics on social media by deleting their comments is more important that protecting his employees,” the letter read.
Sheriff Tony became enraged during a press conference Tuesday morning and criticized Bell for spreading lies and not contacting Bennett’s family.
“I have to take 20 minutes of my time to rectify a gross response to this community,” the sheriff said, before listing thousands of items of protective equipment purchased for deputies. “It’s despicable.”
Schwartzreich said “whatever Bell did was within the law, within his rights as a deputy and as a union president. He should not have been suspended.”
As to the allegations against Bell, Schwartzreich said Bell was doing what he believed to be truthful and was advocating for the deputies.
Schwartzreich said the deputies he has talked to are upset about Bell’s suspension and still feel they don’t have the protective gear they need.
“This is chilling and scary,” Schwartzreich said. “No one, in particular a union president, should be suspended for voicing concerns that … deputies don’t have the protective gear they need in this climate to keep themselves safe and the community safe.”
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