- Associated Press - Friday, April 10, 2020

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida sheriff has suspended a union president who has been critical of the sheriff’s response to the new coronavirus.

Attorney Eric T. Schwartzreich confirmed Friday that his client Jeff Bell had been suspended with pay from the Broward Sheriff’s Office. Bell is the president of the 1,400-member Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association.

The animosity between Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony and the union president grew Tuesday when Bell penned a column blasting Tony in the local newspaper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel. It came four days after the death of Deputy Shannon Bennett, 39, and after three dozen Broward deputies and other employees had tested positive for COVID-19. Bell accused the sheriff of not providing his deputies with sufficient protective equipment.

“Deputies across this country are falling ill and losing their lives all in the name of keeping us safe,” Schwartzreich said. “It was Jeff Bell’s job as union president to voice his concerns for their safety. He was suspended for doing his job.”

Tony has accused Bell of making false statements, having corrupt practices, exhibiting conduct that is unbecoming and not using proper discretion. A message seeking comment from the sheriff’s office wasn’t immediately returned.

Tony said during a Tuesday news conference that Bell was politicizing Bennett’s death and called Bell’s actions “dishonorable.” He said the department has issued more than 25,000 N95 masks, 45,000 surgical masks and 4,000 bottles of hand sanitizer to its deputies and others.

Broward is one of Florida’s hot spots for COVID-19, with more than 2,600 confirmed cases.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Tony sheriff in January 2019, firing Scott Israel over the office’s failures during and after the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which left 14 students and three staff members dead.

Tony, a former sergeant with the Coral Springs Police Department, had quit in 2016 to start a company specializing in active shooter training, garnering him support from some Stoneman Douglas parents who lost children. Before the current rift over protective equipment, Tony clashed with the union after he suspended and fired some deputies accused of excessive force.

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