FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A Florida sheriff fired the president of his division’s deputies union Thursday, capping a three-year battle that escalated when the union chief accused the sheriff of not offering deputies with sufficient protecting gear towards COVID-19.

Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony mentioned in a press launch that he fired Deputy Jeff Bell for participating in “corrupt practices” and “conduct unbecoming” of a deputy, saying Bell had lied about him to native information reporters in an unsuccessful try to stop his election to a full time period in November 2020. He mentioned the workplace’s skilled requirements board had unanimously advisable the firing.

“The evidence shows Bell used corrupt practices to try to prevent me from being elected sheriff by providing misinformation and lies to the media to create fear and distrust among (Broward Sheriff’s Office) employees and within the community during a global pandemic,” Tony mentioned. “This type of behavior is egregious at any time but even more harmful and shameful during an unprecedented health crisis.”

No one answered the phone Thursday afternoon at the Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association offices and Bell did not immediately respond to a text message from The Associated Press. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he would fight his firing in court. A 26-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, Bell has been president of the 1,400-member union since 2015.

“This is so personal for Greg Tony,” Bell told the Fort Lauderdale newspaper. “He cannot separate business from personal. Anything you bring against the sheriff office, he looks as a personal attack against him.”

Tony was appointed sheriff in 2019 by Gov. Ron DeSantis after the governor fired the previous sheriff, Scott Israel, for his alleged mishandling of the 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The union initially backed the pick, but Tony and Bell soon began butting heads after the sheriff disciplined deputies for alleged excessive force. Bell said the deputies had only been following policy changes Tony had made. Tony said he had made no policy changes.

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Their animosity reached a crescendo in April 2020 after a Broward deputy died of COVID-19, the first of at least three Broward deputies and six civilian employees to succumb to the disease.

Bell penned an opinion piece shortly after the death for the Sun Sentinel, accusing Tony of not providing sufficient masks and other protection for deputies in those early days of the pandemic.

“Tony has been politically fiddling with facts like Nero as Rome burned,” Bell wrote. “This so-called BSO savior, the man who rode into office with the support of distraught Parkland parents and this union, has failed to provide leadership.”

Tony rapidly suspended Bell with pay on accusations of mendacity, saying the union president knew the company had supplied deputies with 70,000 masks and hand sanitizer. He ordered Bell investigated.

In a 200-page inside affairs report launched Thursday, the sheriff instructed investigators Bell started attacking him as a result of he would not promote the union head to captain, “which was three ranks above his present rank.”

“He used the pandemic to amplify those grievances publicly to hinder my candidacy for sheriff,” Tony instructed investigators.

The highest rank Tony held earlier than being appointed sheriff was as a sergeant in a suburban police division. He had resigned from that division and was working a consulting agency when DeSantis appointed him.

Bell, when requested by investigators whether or not he requested Tony for a promotion, replied, “Absolutely not,” based on the report. In the interview, he instructed investigators that no matter what Tony mentioned concerning the company distributing anti-COVID masks, he had quite a few deputies telling him that they had not obtained any.

The investigators additionally requested Bell if he leaked to the media that Tony, at 14, had been arrested for fatally taking pictures an 18-year-old neighbor throughout a fight at his household’s Philadelphia house in 1993. Court data have been destroyed, however Tony has mentioned the taking pictures was later dominated self-defense. Tony has been criticized for not disclosing the arrest to his earlier employers or DeSantis earlier than it appeared in native media in May 2020, a month after Bell’s suspension.

“I wish I could take credit for giving this to the media, but I did not,” Bell instructed investigators. “If you find out that an elected government official lied and covered up about his involvement in what was then an arrest for homicide, I think a lot of voters would want to know about that.”

The story apparently didn’t harm Tony’s candidacy — he simply defeated former sheriff Israel within the Democratic major and his Republican opponent within the 2020 normal election.

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