Last summer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis fired Hillsborough County state prosecutor Andrew Warren, sparking a huge lawsuit. Warren claims DeSantis terminated him for political reasons, not public safety failure. Warren told NBC News that this is part of the authoritarian playbook.
Another state Democratic prosecutor feels DeSantis is targeting her.
In a scathing April 28 letter, Monique Worrell, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida in Orange and Osceola counties, said DeSantis “seeks to exploit his political agenda against me” and that she believes his office is trying to “build and justify a baseless case against a prosecutor he simply disagrees with politically.”
Her office claimed recent state moves suggest DeSantis is trying to suspend Worrell.
Worrell said state law enforcement officers have been demanding data from her first two years in office, suggesting they are cherry-picking instances to remove her.
Some state authorities are pressing Worrell to create a case against herself rather than discussing individual incidents.
State Committeewoman Debbie Galvin requested examples of human trafficking victims’ unjust treatment from Worrell’s office late last month. She didn’t say which cases. “She seemed to want us to identify cases for her,” Worrell’s office spokesman Keisha Mulfort told HuffPost.
Galvin informed a Worrell office staffer that she had to provide DeSantis with the information by May 1.
“Ms. Galvin’s efforts support the fact that there aren’t any policies that would justify my suspension, and the Governor’s team is pursuing this witch-hunt to establish a basis for the removal of another duly-elected prosecutor,” Worrell wrote to Galvin on April 28. Local law enforcement agencies have made similar demands for data from my first two years in office. Unprecedented requests.”
DeSantis’ office also investigated a February 22 Pine Hills shooting that killed three individuals, including a local journalist and a 9-year-old girl. DeSantis’ office found that the alleged shooter, 19-year-old Black male Keith Moses, was a menace to society and that Worrell’s office was irresponsible for not prosecuting him for an earlier marijuana conviction.
Keith Moses, accused of killing three individuals on Feb. 22, is the subject of a March 9 press conference by State Attorney Monique Worrell.
Worrell announced accusations against Moses on March 10. A month later, Moses was indicted for first-degree murder. He denied guilt.
DeSantis rushed Worrell after the shooting.
“I know the district attorney, state attorney in Orlando thinks you don’t prosecute people and that somehow has better communities. “That doesn’t work,” DeSantis said during a February press conference.
DeSantis’ general counsel, Ryan Newman, wanted Moses-related communication from Worrell. Moses was charged with violence, burglary, “multiple instances of resisting an officer,” and aggravated battery with a dangerous weapon without intent to kill, according to the letter.
DeSantis’ team focused on one arrest they claim was improperly prosecuted. DeSantis’ general counsel said that Moses was arrested in November 2021 for carrying less than 20 grams of marijuana while on juvenile probation.
The sheriff’s office stated Moses tossed a pistol from the car before the arrest, but deputies didn’t send the gun for testing.
Worrell said Moses was not charged because the evidence did not show a crime, especially without gun proof.
She alleged DeSantis and other local authorities used a “dog whistle” to assault her prosecutorial integrity.
“They used this as an opportunity to say I am responsible and my soft-on-crime policies are responsible, but there was no validity to the argument,” Worrell told HuffPost.
I’m letting violent criminals wander the streets to match this narrative. This is clearly a Republican talking point.”
Donna Patalano, a defense attorney and former Suffolk County, Massachusetts, chief counsel, said DeSantis has used the system for political gain.
Patalano told HuffPost that DeSantis exploited a procedure for political benefit. “The fact that Florida does not respect the electorate in his own jurisdiction should be troubling to those considering him for higher office,” Patalano added.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a former governor, said, “In too many cities across America, we have seen soft-on-crime policies sold to the public on the lies that lighter punishment… does more good than swift accountability.”
Scott criticized “radical” leftists for “failed philosophy.”
After Orlando prosecutor Aramis Ayala declared she would not seek the death sentence in 2017, Scott withdrew her from 30 murder cases as governor.
Conservatives have tried to remove progressive prosecutors in recent years. Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner survived a Republican state House impeachment attempt.
Since former President Donald Trump was indicted on felony counts of falsifying business records, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has relentlessly pursued Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Worrell’s office revealed first-quarter crime figures Thursday.
Our prosecutors got 90% felony convictions and 77% overall. Worrell’s office stated prosecutors won all 11 felony charges in Osceola County.
Six homicide trials resulted in guilty verdicts. Sex, drug, and violent crimes were also significant.
Worrell also wants reform. She piloted a 90-day Adult Civil Citation last year. Drug possession, misdemeanor assault, disorderly behavior, retail theft, and trespass would result in a civil ticket under the scheme.
We recognize criminal justice system inequities. Worrell told HuffPost that he challenges police enforcement.
“This is just rhetoric and fear-mongering because research shows that when you scare people, the pendulum swings the other way. They can maintain mass imprisonment that has plagued this country for decades if not centuries.”