Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Orlando’s chief prosecutor on Wednesday.
It is the second time that DeSantis, a Republican, has impeached a Democratic prosecutor and follows an investigation that began when a teenager was accused of fatally shooting a television reporter and a 9-year-old girl.
“It is my duty as governor to ensure that the laws enacted by our duly elected legislature are enforced,” DeSantis said at a press conference in Tallahassee announcing the suspension of state attorney Monique Worrell of the 9th Judicial Circuit , which serves Orange and Osceola counties. .
Worrell vowed to seek re-election next year, saying her removal was political and not for her performance. She also suggested DeSantis’s timing was to distract from a stagnant presidential campaign that has faced layoffs and changes at the top as it struggled to regain traction.
“He needed to get media coverage in a positive way, that would be red meat for his base, and he will have achieved that today,” she said. “He replaced his campaign manager yesterday and I think it’s my turn today.”
DeSantis’ office began investigating Worrell after 19-year-old Keith Moses was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons, Nathacha Augustin, and 9-year-old T’yonna Major. The girl’s mother and Spectrum News 13 photographer Jesse Walden were also shot.
Shortly after the shooting, DeSantis’ general counsel said in a letter to Worrell that she had not held Moses accountable despite his criminal record and gang membership. The governor’s office looked up Moses’ juvenile files, which are usually protected.
In his announcement on Wednesday, DeSantis cited other matters, saying that Worrell was avoiding minimum mandatory sentences on charges of gun crimes, drug trafficking and child pornography. He also said the district attorney’s office had a pattern of letting minors avoid serious charges or incarceration and noted the weekend shooting of two Orlando police officers by a 28-year-old man with a long criminal history.
But Democrats said Worrell’s suspension was politically motivated, noting that she is the only black woman in Florida elected to serve as state attorney.
“This is absolutely disgusting,” Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani said. “Her removal is a complete slap in the face to the residents of Orange and Osceola County and another example of Governor DeSantis eroding our local control and democracy. This politically motivated action by the governor in a mostly Democratic part of the state should should sound the alarm.”
DeSantis last year removed state attorney Andrew Warren, a twice-elected Democrat in Tampa, over his signing of pledges that he would not bring criminal charges against those seeking or providing abortion or sex reassignment treatments, as well as policies not to press charges for certain crimes of low level.
DeSantis is one of many Republicans in various U.S. jurisdictions who have challenged decisions made by Democratic prosecutors.
The governor appointed Andrew Bain, an Orange County judge, to replace Worrell. Bain previously served as an assistant state attorney in Orlando.
“The people of Central Florida deserve to have a state attorney seeking justice in accordance with the law rather than allowing violent criminals to roam the streets seeking new victims,” DeSantis said.
Bain, a Republican, said the job is pretty “simple.” He said, “We’re here to prosecute crimes and hold people accountable.”
Worrell said she knows and respects Bain and wouldn’t criticize him, adding that the issue is about DeSantis.
“Elected officials are removed from office for political reasons, and that should never be a thing,” she said.
Members of Washington’s Congressional Black Caucus noted in a statement that Worrell had been elected with nearly two-thirds of the district’s vote.
“Make no mistake, State Attorney Worrell did nothing wrong,” they said. “This abuse of power by Governor DeSantis is not just an attack on Democratic black leaders in Florida, but an attack on our democracy itself.”
Frisaro reported from Fort Lauderdale.