Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended Democratic State Attorney Monique Worrell. He appointed judge Andrew Bain to the office in her stead.
“I trust that he will be a prosecutor that faithfully enforces the law,” DeSantis said.
Rumors have swirled for months that DeSantis would suspend Worrell, who has already filed for re-election. The Governor took the action in the wake of a series of Pine Hills shootings that left three dead in February. That prompted scrutiny from DeSantis’ Office and calls for Worrell’s job by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott.
Worrell won election as State Attorney in Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit in 2020 and recently announced she would seek a second term in 2024.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office arrested 19-year-old Keith Melvin Moses on Feb. 22. He faces three charges of first-degree murder following the killings of 38-year-old Natacha Augustin, broadcast news reporter Dylan Lyons and 8-year-old T’yonna Major in three separate shootings. Moses, who also faces two attempted murder charges connected to two other victims, has pleaded not guilty. A grand jury in March indicted Moses on the charges.
Worrell’s Office has come under fire for the fact Moses was on the streets at the time of the shooting.
The suspension also took place just after a police say Daton Viel shot and critically injured to Orlando police officers. Viel died in a shootout with police, but had run-ins with police in the past, and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd publicly asserted that was in part because Worrell’s office did not ask for a pre-trial in a case against Viel, according to reporting by Fox 35,
An executive order specifically takes Worrell to task on seeking mandatory minimum sentences on crimes involving firearms. It notes the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office referred 58 non-homicide robbery with a firearm cases to prosecutors in 2021 and 2022. But as of May, only one of those cases resulted in a minimum mandatory sentence of 10 years.
The order also notes the judicial circuit had one of the lowest prison admission rates in the state for robbery with a weapon, armed burglary and weapons possession.
“Worrell’s practices or policies of avoiding minimum mandatory sentences for gun crimes not only defies the expressed will of the Florida Legislature, it also subjects the residents of Orange and Osceola Counties and surrounding areas to increased risk of harm as violent criminals in the community are too often left on the streets or prematurely returned to the streets to cause, further violence and mischief,” the order reads.
As recently as last week, Worrell stood alongside Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried at a political event. She told Florida Politics at the time that she had no knowledge if any investigation of her record was still underway by the Governor.
Democrats immediately criticized the suspension as politically motivated.
“This is absolutely disgusting — State Attorney Monique Worrell is a duly elected official and the only Black woman serving as State Attorney in Florida right now. Her removal is a complete slap in the face to Orange and Osceola County residents and another example of Gov. DeSantis eroding our local control and democracy,” said state Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat.
“This politically motivated action by the Governor in a predominantly Democratic part of the state should alarm everyone. DeSantis is extreme, unfit to serve, and must be held accountable.”
Ryan Newman, General Counsel to DeSantis, sent a letter to Worrell’s Office seeking information about the past treatment of Moses. It noted an arrest as recently as Nov. 12, 2021, where an arrest affidavit noted Moses’ history of attempted murder and robbery charges. Police also noted the presence of ski masks when he and two others were arrested.
“Tragically, despite the clear threat that Mr. Moses posed to our community, you apparently made the decision not to pursue charges against him,” Newman’s letter stated.
The Governor’s Office also sought information on the broader treatment by the office of felony and probation violation arrests for individuals with prior records.
Many viewed the inquiries as laying the groundwork for a suspension.
Worrell has pushed back on any allegations her office was soft on crime.
Worrell told Spectrum News 13, murder victim Lyons’ employer, shortly after the shooting that criticisms were politically motivated.
“Any implication that my office does not prosecute cases is not based in fact,” she said. “Since January, we have prosecuted close to 3,000 cases, and that is since January of this year. Thirty-five jury trials have taken place. Several of those have resulted in life sentences, so not only do we prosecute cases, we take violent crime very seriously.”
DeSantis notably suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in August after the Democrat said he did not intend to prosecute anyone under the state’s new 15-week abortion ban. Warren is contesting the legality of that action in federal court.