Monday, August 28, 2023

ANNALS OF DeSANTISTAN: The Real Story Behind Ron DeSantis’ Newest Fired Prosecutor (Daily Beast, August 28, 2023)

So did DeSANTIS commit obstruction of justice, abusing Florida Constitution, Article IV, Section 7, by removing Monique Worrell, an elected prosecutor in the midst of an investigation of local police corruption?  You tell me.  From the Daily Beast:

publisher icon

The Real Story Behind Ron DeSantis’ Newest Fired Prosecutor

By Jose Pagliery,

10 hours ago
Photo Illustration by Thomas Levinson/The Daily Beast/Getty/Reuters 

When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis finally spoke to a national audience on stage at last week’s Republican presidential debate, he gloated about the way he spitefully sacked two “radical left-wing district attorneys” in his state who “wouldn’t do their job.” 

What American viewers weren’t told is that, behind the scenes, the governor’s office had quietly conspired with local sheriffs to tarnish the reputations of these democratically elected prosecutors—turning local cops against the state attorneys they’re supposed to partner with and trust. 

In the latest instance, the governor did one sheriff a huge favor by firing Orlando-area State Attorney Monique Worrell just as she was about to crack down on a wide-ranging cover-up by deputies who, she says, were faking documents to hide lethal and abusive behavior. 

“They thought that I was overly critical of law enforcement and didn't do anything against ‘real criminals,’” Worrell told The Daily Beast in an interview last week. “Apparently there’s a difference between citizens who commit crimes and cops who commit crimes.” 

Worrell continued that there are approximately 20 law enforcement agencies in Central Florida. “And they were all working against me, because I was prosecuting their cops, the ones who used to do things and get away with them,” she said. 

Her account was backed up by two people who spoke to The Daily Beast on condition of anonymity. 

In a frenzied bid to raise his national profile as he pursues aspirations to enter the White House, DeSantis has intensified his anti-woke crusade in his home state. In 2021, he banned trans students from girls’ sports. In 2022, he implemented a “ Don’t Say Gay ” law to muzzle teachers from mentioning the mere existence of gay parents to kids, targeted “ woke math ,” and rejected certain textbooks that mention race. This year, his administration formed a grade school book-banning council staffed with conspiracy-theorist moms. 

But of all his stunning power grabs , perhaps the most shocking was the vengeful way DeSantis removed two progressive prosecutors in Central Florida. In August of last year, he fired Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren , citing the prosecutor’s stated refusal to jail women for having an abortion that violated Florida’s increasingly stringent and conservative laws.

State Attorney Monique H. Worrell holds a press conference, on March 9, 2023, in Florida. 

Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images 

Warren sued to get his job back and lost. A federal judge stated emphatically that the Florida governor had violated his own state’s constitution and the prosecutor’s free speech rights, but refused to undo the suspension. 

But the trial uncovered something sinister: the way DeSantis tapped his so-called “public safety czar” to become the governor’s cloak-and-dagger political hatchet man. 

Larry Keefe, whose chummy relationship with congressman Matt Gaetz helped him land the U.S. Attorney spot in Florida’s panhandle under President Donald Trump, left the Department of Justice and became DeSantis’ legal commando whose job it was to punish undocumented migrants seeking shelter in the United States. But his less explored role has been to coordinate the purely political and unceremonious removal of local prosecutors—aggressive operations that seek to embarrass Democrats all in the name of public safety. 

Keefe appears to have kept a similar mode of operation when conducting both jobs. When coordinating the controversial contracts that rounded up desperate migrants and sent them to Martha’s Vineyard on potentially illegal flights, he seemed to try dodging public records laws by using a non-government email address named after “Clarice Starling,” the protagonist from The Silence of the Lambs . In that same fashion, court transcripts show, he used a private email address to coordinate Warren’s downfall with Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and asked to shift correspondence to the encrypted app Signal, where messages can auto-delete. 

Internal documents unearthed at trial revealed that DeSantis also targeted Worrell, but decided against removing her because she hadn’t yet crossed a line like Warren had through his public promise. 

But there was work underway in the shadows. 

Just as DeSantis’ staff was readying to pounce on the Tampa prosecutor's office, Worrell began to get odd vibes from her own local sheriffs near Orlando—who seemed to be aligning themselves alongside the DeSantis administration, too. 

It became most apparent on a Zoom call her executive staff had with Orlando County Sheriff John W. Mina and his top brass in July 2022, which was first uncovered by the Orlando Sentinel . “I was at home and had COVID. I got on the meeting, and the call was being recorded . No one told me in advance that it was going to be recorded. In that call, the sheriff's disposition was very aggressive and accusatory,” Worrell told The Daily Beast, describing what happened next as “an ambush.” 

According to Worrell and another person with knowledge of the call, Mina began to pepper her with specific questions about cases that her office had failed to prosecute. The problem was, the cases actually reflected police misconduct and ineptitude, rather than forgiving or forgetful prosecutors. For example, both said the Orlando County sheriff complained about the state attorney’s failure to jail a particular known gang member fresh out of prison who was caught with a gun in his car. However, Worrell’s staff on the call countered that description of the case, noting that the felon had actually been illegally accosted by detectives who spotted him at a gun show, where they demanded to know what he was doing out free, followed him into the parking lot, and proceeded to break every rule in the book. 

“They took him into custody—without a warrant. Went into his pants pocket—without a warrant. Clicked key fob—without warrant. Went in—without warrant,” Worrell recalled. 

Detectives found a gun, but junior prosecutors quickly determined the case didn’t stand a chance in court. 

“There’s this little thing called ‘unreasonable search and seizure,’ and you can’t get evidence without a warrant. We were unable to go forward with charges because it was an illegal search and seizure. And we had lots of communication with the sheriff’s office about this case, trying to salvage the case,” she recalled last week. “As the state attorney, we’re not here to rubber-stamp what the sheriff’s office does. We can’t condone that.” 

From there, things only got more heated. 

Email records obtained this week by The Daily Beast offer a look at the mounting pressure campaign.
Brian Snyder 

In February, the governor’s office wrote a stern letter directly to Worrell’s team, demanding a vast and detailed record of unprosecuted cases—fishing for the very statistics and cases it could wave around to justify her removal. The next month, the state attorney’s general counsel assembled a simplified snapshot of dropped cases going back several previous elected prosecutors and warned DeSantis’ people that they were barking up the wrong tree. 

“The unfounded assertions and conclusions in your letter are certainly disappointing and quite frankly, irresponsible,” the state attorney’s general counsel, Kamilah L. Perry, replied. “The suggestion that our office’s ‘policies’ promote crime are empty political statements not supported by facts. These misleading claims pose a danger to our community, which is being intentionally misled by this political fear mongering.” 

As the months went by, local sheriffs began pulling prosecution statistics that found their way to the governor’s office 220 miles away in Tallahassee. But the way they did it turned heads at the Ninth Judicial District State Attorney’s Office. 

The aptly named Sunshine State is celebrated for its particularly transparent public records laws, which allow the average person to easily demand all kinds of government documents. But it’s not how partner law enforcement agencies get information from each other when working on official business. 

That’s why it seemed odd to Worrell and her advisers when, sometime around May, the records department received a request for copies of its exchange with DeSantis’ people from the “Orange-Osceola Police Chiefs Association.” The organization, which doesn’t appear to be registered at Florida’s division of corporations, is a private entity that’s led by none other than Carl Metzger, whose day job is actually campus police chief at the University of Central Florida. 

Going through official channels, prosecutors could have simply turned over sensitive case details and entire files, but that would have required the request to be part of official government work. This wasn’t. 

“It is our understanding that OOCPCA is not an ‘agency’ as that term is defined in Chapter 119, Florida Statutes and, therefore, the records are not being requested in connection with official agency business,” records officer Jonathan Dubose wrote back. 

Instead, DuBose offered to send over redacted portions—and told the police chief he’d get in line like anybody else for the rest of the paperwork. 

Meanwhile, Osceola Sheriff Marcos R. Lopez had gathered statistics that became the backbone to the governor’s eventual executive order plucking Worrell from office. The document, signed Aug. 9, complained about how only three people out of 32 arrested by Osceola for drug trafficking had gotten mandatory minimum prison sentences—and similar statistics for gun crimes. The statistics were stretched beyond belief, counting as failures even cases resulting from December 2022 arrests that weren’t magically finished in court three months later in March. 

The order was released the same day that DeSantis sent a takeover squad into Worrell’s office in Orlando—once again led by Keefe. 

In his announcement, DeSantis tallied a list of incidents he called evidence of her “neglect of duty and incompetence.” Among them, he pointed out how Worrell’s office had failed to prosecute Lorenzo Michael Larry, a 17-year-old who was under investigation for gunning down a young woman but remained free until he killed his pregnant teenage girlfriend. 

Prosecutors have countered that the detective hadn’t yet turned over the official paperwork allowing the lawyers to indict him and keep him behind bars pending trial. The governor also noted how 28-year-old Daton Viel was arrested for raping a teenage girl and let out on bond, only to shoot two Orlando police officers months later. 

The takeover was swift and aggressive. Text messages shared with The Daily Beast show how Worrell was coordinating with her own investigators to quickly turn over all of her official government items, which included her Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, badge, and office-issued iPad. She left her Chevy Tahoe outside her home packed with stuff, as she wouldn’t be home for hours given the press conference she’d give that day. But that didn’t stop her replacement from apparently informing local reporters that Worrell had neglected to turn over the taxpayer-funded equipment. 

In reality, investigators had finished the job by 3 p.m., as instructed. The heavy-handed approach was also directed at her chief of staff , who was at home on maternity leave breastfeeding her infant daughter when State Attorney investigators knocked at her door with a bulletproof vest-wearing Orange County sheriff’s deputy in tow.
1243831545 Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images 

The sudden change of leadership was jarring and forced the region’s criminal court to close for much of the day, according to local station WFTV . But the impact could be more far-reaching. 

Unbeknownst to locals, Worrell’s investigators were actually in the final stages of a long-running investigation into corruption at that very same sheriff’s office in Osceola County—and the interruption would be welcome relief to majors who kept phoning friends at the State Attorney’s office nervously checking for updates in recent weeks. 

Worrell told The Daily Beast that two incidents in particular had called prosecutors’ attention. In one, a deputy made headlines when he decided to repeatedly tase an annoying dirtbiker who’d led cops on a chase—only his decision to fire his taser happened at a Wawa gas station, setting off a fireball that caused injuries and was caught on tape . In the other, two deputies opened fire on a group of four men in a car at a Target parking lot who appeared to have stolen items from the store minutes earlier. One died, and two others were gravely injured 

But as the State Attorney’s own investigators dug around, they started finding evidence of police covering for each other’s lies in several other cases, she said. 

“As we were investigating, there was all sorts of illegal activity that started coming up: officers signing each other’s reports, getting them notarized in someone else’s name when they signed them themselves, fraudulent documents,” she told The Daily Beast. 

Worrell is now concerned that investigation could get railroaded with her DeSantis-appointed replacement, Andrew A. Bain, a former prosecutor whom the governor previously appointed as a circuit judge before giving him the reins at the Ninth Judicial District State Attorney’s Office. 

Bain’s team did not respond to a request for comment over the weekend. Neither did the Orange County Sheriff, Osceola County Sheriff, nor the UCF police chief. 

Worrell said she’s less than two weeks away from making the final decision of whether or not to sue the state over the way it handled her ousting. But she’s already developing a plan to run for re-election next year—potentially facing her replacement as an incumbent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Yeah about to have to let judges help run the state before too long. The GOP is a corrupt criminal organization, seditious organization, and terrorist supporting organization. A civil rights nightmare on wheels.