Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins following Hawkins’ arrest last month and charged with impersonating a law enforcement officer.
‘It is in the best interests of the residents of Osceola County, and the citizens of the State of Florida, that Fred Wilbur Hawkins be immediately suspended from public office, which he now holds,” DeSantis said in an executive order signed Friday night.
Hawkins is also a Republican candidate for the open Florida House District 42 seat to represent parts of Osceola and Polk counties. DeSantis’ order does not affect his status in that race.
Hawkins was arrested June 21 after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated an incident that occurred last November at an election meeting of the Turnberry Reserve Home Owners Association in Osceola County, in Hawkins’ county commission district.
While a security guard hired by the home owners association was trying to only allow people to only enter the polling area one at a time, Hawkins reportedly pushed his way past her to get into a back room where balloting was taking place. While doing so, her body cam shows Hawkins raising a badge and identifying himself as a “sheriff,” then telling the security guard she is about to get arrested.
He and his campaign have contended that as a “special deputy” of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office Hawkins was exercising his authority with his special deputy badge. But the Sheriff’s Office has said that “special deputy” is a largely honorary title and does not give arrest powers.
Last week State Attorney Aramis Ayala charged Hawkins with falsely assuming or pretending to be an officer, a third-degree felony.
Hawkins campaign vowed he will continue his quest for the HD 42 seat.
“Make no mistake that Fred Hawkins most certainly remains a candidate for the Florida House. In fact, if he wasn’t a candidate running for political office, this charge would never have seen the light of day,” said campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson. “We find it curious that while this incident happened last November, with many having online access to the HOA videotape, that it took eight months to file a charge. This continues to be nothing more than a political witch hunt and these charges will be vigorously defended.”
The Governor’s office said late Tuesday he would not be appointing a replacement commissioner for the rest of Hawkins’ term, which expires in December. The November election will fill the seat.
District 5 covers eastern and southern Osceola, including the city of St. Cloud, Hawkins’ home.
There are three candidates running for the District 5 seat. Republicans Ricky Booth and Wayne Liebnitzky will meet in the August 18 primary. The winner will face Democrat Tahitiana Chaffin.
HD 42 incumbent Republican Rep. Mike La Rosa is term-limited out of office. The district’s voter base has a Democratic lean but has favored Republicans in recent elections, so the open seat has drawn a bevy of candidates. In addition to Hawkins, Republicans running include Dianna Liebnitzky, Gary Scott, and Benny Valentin. Barbara Cady is running as a Democrat. Leroy Sanchez is running as an independent candidate.