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Union votes no confidence in sheriff over pandemic response

April 20, 2020 GMT

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A deputy union in Florida has voted its no confidence in the county sheriff following disputes over gear to protect against the new coronavirus, union leaders announced Monday.

Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association members voted 693-93 against Sheriff Gregory Tony, secretary and treasurer Frank Voudy announced during a news conference. The union represents about 1,200 deputies. A separate union that represents lieutenants also voted that it had no confidence in the sheriff. The votes don’t have an immediate effect, but they could have political consequences for Tony, who faces an election in November.

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Tony released a statement Monday saying his department has established procedures to limit exposure to COVID-19 in all areas of operations and has worked to give all of its employees the necessary tools to protect themselves

“I want to say to the deputies, I hear your concerns,” Tony said. “Following today’s vote, my commitment is unwavering and our mission remains clear. It’s time to unite and work together to continue providing the highest level of professional public safety services to our Broward County community.”

The no-confidence vote comes 10 days after Tony suspended the deputy union’s president, Jeff Bell, accusing Bell of making false statements, engaging in corrupt practices, exhibiting conduct that is unbecoming and not using proper discretion.

An attorney for Bell has said the suspension was retaliation for criticizing the sheriff’s response to the coronavirus. Bell had penned a column blasting Tony in the local newspaper, the South Florida Sun Sentinel. It came 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.

Broward is one of Florida’s hot spots for COVID-19, with more than 4,000 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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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.