Gov. Ron DeSantis refused Monday to say whether he maintains confidence in Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony after the Florida Bulldog reported Tony shot and killed a man as a teenager.
Tony’s attorney argued he acted in self-defense in the 1993 incident. After successfully moving the case to juvenile court, Tony was found to be not at fault.
In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Tony as Sheriff after the suspension of now-former Sheriff Scott Israel.
In a conversation with Florida Politics, Tony acknowledged he did not disclose the shooting incident to the Governor before he was appointed head of the Broward Sheriff’s Office (BSO) in 2019.
DeSantis was asked Monday whether he still had confidence in Tony to lead that office after learning of the shooting.
“My view was, at the time, we needed to get someone in there who was going to work hard,” DeSantis said of his original appointment. He then argued he wasn’t overlooking Tony’s past in order to get an ally into that office.
“It’s not like he’s my Sheriff. I didn’t even know the guy. It’s not like he was a political ally of mine. I wasn’t trying to do that. I was just trying to [get] someone that had done a good job.”
Whether Tony will remain in that post will be left to the voters, as Tony is one of 11 candidates competing for the job in 2020. DeSantis continued by saying he would stay out of the race.
“I mean, then people I’ve talked to in Broward have been pleased with what he’s doing,” DeSantis said. “But that’s ultimately a decision that the people in Broward can make. It’s not going to be anything I’m going to be getting involved in.”
The Governor said Tony went through a background check before his appointment. But because Tony was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing — and because the court records were sealed due to Tony’s juvenile status — the incident was not flagged during that background check.
DeSantis was also asked whether knowledge of the shooting would have affected his appointment of Tony. The Governor argued it would not have.
“It seems like he was in a very rough neighborhood and he was trying to defend his family. So because it was self-defense, I don’t think it would’ve made a difference. But it did not come up in the background check.”
A Philadelphia Daily News report from 1993 cited the mother of the victim — Hector Rodriguez — saying Rodriguez had made a joke about Tony’s uncles. That, according to the report, prompted Tony to go inside and retrieve his father’s gun, which led to the fatal shooting.
Tony conceded there was an argument but says Rodriguez pulled a gun first and made a threat.
“The day of the incident, Hector, my brother and I were all in front of our house when we got into an argument. At one point, he pulled his gun threatening us, saying he didn’t have any issues with shooting us there,” Tony said, before the story gets a bit fuzzier.
“I don’t remember the specific details, but I remember how scared I was when he chased me and my brother into our house, I ran to grab my father’s gun and fired it before Hector was able to shoot his gun. Both me and my brother left the house, as we were afraid his friends could retaliate. After ensuring there wasn’t an imminent threat for me and my brother, my dad took us both down to the police station, so we could give a statement of what had happened.”
That accounting is disputed by Rodriguez’ then-girlfriend, who was 17 at the time. Now 44, Maritza Carrasquillo told the Bulldog that Rodriguez was not armed.
“Hector didn’t have a weapon on him that I’m aware of, and I never saw him with a weapon,” she said.
Tony said because he was absolved in the incident, he did not disclose the shooting to the Governor nor during his time in the Coral Springs Police Department.
“I didn’t want to always be defined as the victimized teenager that had to shoot someone in self-defense,” Tony told Florida Politics.
“I wanted to be defined by my accomplishments as an adult. I have never mentioned it publicly, because of the reasons I explained before. I have since discussed it with him and he is aware of the incident.”
Former Sheriff Israel is among the 11-person field competing to be the next Broward Sheriff.
Israel has a polarizing history of his own as he seeks to get his job back. He was suspended due to BSO’s handling of the Parkland shooting and Fort Lauderdale Airport shooting. Israel came under fire after Deputy Scot Peterson, who was serving as the school resource officer on the day of the shooting, failed to confront the shooter. Investigations found several other BSO deputies also did not urgently enter the building.