Despite change in governors, executive clemency still a slow process
Nikki Fried is anxious to move rights restoration at a quicker pace.

Governors change, but clemency issues remain.

Florida’s Executive Clemency Board convened hours after Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried lamented the glacial pace of rights restoration.

Under Gov. Ron DeSantis, the pace of clemency determinations has been slow, reminiscent of his predecessor.

Gov. Rick Scott restored rights to 3,000 people, a small fraction of the 150,000 restored under Gov. Charlie Crist.

At a Tallahassee town hall, Fried lamented the slow pace of rights restoration prior to Wednesday’s meeting.

On Wednesday, dozens more were pardoned, more than a few out of a patchwork quilt of drug convictions, DUIs, and domestic violence raps (often alcohol-driven) from decades back.

The stories overlap in many ways, but with their own unique twists of tragedy.

Richard Brookins Jr., an elderly white man, was involved in a domestic altercation with his adopted daughter.

He served a day in jail, was divorced and re-married.

“During the adoption, I thought I was getting a daughter,” Brookins lamented when asked if he’d resolved issues with his adopted daughter.

While she’s “forgiven” him, he wants the adoption annulled. No pardon was granted on the spot.

Vincent Charles Brown, a military man a couple of decades back, had an altercation with his ex-wife when he poured her alcohol down the drain.

“I lost my grip and she hit herself,” Brown said. “I pleaded no contest … I couldn’t afford a lawyer.”

The pardon was granted, with his ex-wife’s support.

Michael John Durbin, an elderly white man, retired and disabled, sold drugs when unemployed in 1982.

“If I hadn’t gotten arrested there, I’d probably be dead or in jail,” Durbin, who was 23 at the time, said.

His pardon was granted also.

Luis Gutierrez. an elderly Hispanic retiree, sold 10 grams of cocaine in 1984. He became an informant to avoid jail, and got probation.

DeSantis noted “brushes with the law” he’d had in the 1980s, which Gutierrez attributed to being in the “wrong neighborhood.”

“A lot of time’s passed,” the Governor noted, granting the pardon.

Charles Hurt, a white male Naval officer at Mayport a year from retirement, was “an immature young man in 1993” when he “got into an argument with his wife, who [he’s] still married to.”

He was there with his wife, with whom he worked things out.

His wife spoke up for him, a “wonderful man … who would do anything for anyone.” She noted that he no longer drinks.

This pardon was also granted.

Harold G. Pearson bought a bag of cannabis from a police officer in a reverse sting decades back.

“Obviously, you made a mistake,” DeSantis said.

Pearson works in a drug-free workplace now. He is newly pardoned.

Jeffrey Rossburg, decades back, trafficked in cocaine and served “a few days” in jail. He’s turned his life around since, becoming a professional engineer and general contractor.

With no offenses since the 1980s, his pardon was granted.

Charles Toney, a middle-aged African-American man, was “hardheaded at 19” and got caught holding a pusher’s drugs in the early 1990s.

He works as a county-level mosquito control inspector now, and has been largely clean, except for a DUI in 2006.

Toney was pardoned.

David Washington Jr. “was young and made young people’s choices … went and sold drugs, got caught in it.”

The African-American male is now a grandfather and has been gainfully employed since.

“Just a minister’s kid gone bad and back to good,” he said.

Washington, a “country boy,” wants to take his grandson hunting.

His pardon was likewise granted.

Not all pardons were granted, however.

A man who claimed to have been falsely accused of domestic violence collapsed in the Cabinet room when DeSantis was unmoved by his impassioned narrative of being framed.

“Does he need attention,” the Governor asked.

The running theme of this and every clemency meeting: People who “got in with the wrong crowd,” or got into adverse situations, and set out to redeem themselves thereafter, with varying results.

The board meets again in three months.

A.G. Gancarski

A.G. Gancarski has written for since 2014. He is based in Northeast Florida. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @AGGancarski


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