The daughter of a Philadelphia man gunned down 27 years ago this week by a 14-year-old who is now a Florida sheriff took to social media Sunday night to denounce the sheriff as a “murderer” and “coward” who she said is lying about the circumstances surrounding the slaying.
“This has nothing to do with politics [or a] smear campaign,” Melanie Rodriguez, 27, said in a Facebook message posted in response to interviews given over the weekend by Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony, who was appointed last year and is running for election.
“This is about you executing a human being, being found ‘NOT GUILTY’ and being able to move on in life and become a freaking sheriff?” wrote Rodriguez, who was 5 months old when her father was killed.
Tony, 41, is under fire for failing to disclose that he had been arrested in the May 3, 1993, shooting death of 18-year-old Hector “Chino” Rodriguez both when he became a Coral Springs, Fla., police officer in 2005 and when he was appointed to his current job by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Al Pollock, a Democrat running for sheriff in the primary, said Monday that DeSantis should remove Tony from office and that Tony should withdraw from the August primary. “He should not be considered a candidate at this point, knowing what we know now,” Pollock said. “He needs to go.”
Pollock, who retired as a colonel from the Broward County Sheriff’s Office in 2017 after 43 years, said any employee of the agency found to have concealed what Tony kept secret would have been immediately fired.
The Miami Herald reported that the Sheriff’s Office’s largest union said Tony broke the law when he failed to disclose his arrest on his application to become a Coral Springs police officer.
“To take somebody’s life, whether justified or not, you’re still under investigation for a criminal charge. You can’t get around [it by] saying ‘I was never arrested,’” said Broward Sheriff’s Office Deputies Association president Jeff Bell, who was recently suspended as a deputy sheriff by Tony.
At a news conference Monday evening, DeSantis said the state did a background check on Tony before he was appointed sheriff but nothing about his arrest turned up. Asked if he still had confidence in Tony, the governor said: “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.” He added that he wanted someone who “had come from a real tough upbringing” and had heard that people in Broward County, home to Fort Lauderdale, like the job Tony is doing.
Tony told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Sunday that he doesn’t remember exactly how the shooting took place, but recalled that Rodriguez had been threatening him and his brother with a gun and chased them into their house.
“Before he was able to shoot me and my brother, I was able to defend myself and shoot him,” Tony told the Sun-Sentinel. He said he did nothing wrong and never faced criminal charges. He said he did not disclose the shooting when applying for law enforcement jobs. A spokesperson for DeSantis told the Sun-Sentinel that the governor learned about the shooting Saturday.
Hector Rodriguez was shot several times as he stood near a curb in the trash-strewn 2800 block of North Hutchinson Street in Fairhill. The alleged 14-year-old gunman, identified at the time as Gregory Scott-Toney, turned himself in and was initially charged as an adult with murder and related offenses, according to reports in The Inquirer and the Daily News.
The case was transferred to Family Court, where Tony maintained that he had acted in self-defense, and a judge found him not guilty.
A biography on the sheriff’s website says Tony moved from Philadelphia to Florida to play football at Florida State University, graduated in 2002, and started his career in law enforcement as a police officer in Coral Springs in 2005.
Tony served in that city until 2016, when he left to run his own security firm. DeSantis, a Republican, selected Tony in January 2019 to serve as Broward County sheriff. He replaced Scott Israel, who had held the post since 2013 until DeSantis suspended him due to “failures” related to 2017’s fatal shootings at Fort Lauderdale’s airport and those in 2018 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, according to the sheriff’s website.
With about 5,400 employees, including more than 2,800 certified deputies and more than 700 fire rescue professionals, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office provides full-time law enforcement to 14 cities and towns and all of the county’s unincorporated areas. It protects the Broward County Courthouse, the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, areas of the Everglades, and the county’s waterways, including Port Everglades, according to its website.
In June 2019, Tony fired two sheriff’s deputies for their actions while responding to the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, ending an internal investigation that led to the firing of four deputies for what the department called an inadequate response to the shooting, which killed 17 and injured 17 more.
Rodriguez, of Bethlehem, Pa., who works as a medication associate at a senior care facility, according to her Facebook page, questioned whether Tony had acted in self-defense in her father’s fatal shooting and contended that he is lying about not knowing her father.
Tony, in a statement posted on his campaign’s Facebook page Sunday, acknowledged news reports about what he called “the most difficult and painful experience in my life.”
“When I was 14 years old, growing up in a dangerous neighborhood in North Philadelphia known as the Badlands, filled with gun violence, drugs and gang activity, I had to shoot an armed man in self-defense,” the statement said.
“The juvenile justice system reviewed my actions and concluded there was no crime and cleared my name,” the statement said. He described the shooting as an “eye-opening experience” that “inspired me to do work to help others.”