DeSantis may remove another Florida prosecutor from office
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis appears poised to suspend another prosecutor from office, this time zeroing in on how a central Florida state attorney dealt with the 19-year-old man accused of killing three people in Orlando, including a television reporter.
DeSantis has already publicly criticized State Attorney Monique Worrell’s handling of previous prosecutions of the suspect, Keith Moses, who had a record of arrests as a juvenile and was on probation at the time he allegedly went on a shooting spree.
On Tuesday, DeSantis’ general counsel demanded that Worrell turn over emails, reports and documents related to Moses, including his juvenile record.
The request is significant because the general counsel’s office handled the contentious suspension of Tampa prosecutor Andrew Warren. DeSantis removed Warren from office last August after the prosecutor pledged that he would not prosecute people under Florida’s new abortion restrictions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care, even though state law doesn’t address that presently.
Warren is challenging his suspension in both federal and state courts. A federal judge ultimately decided against reinstating Warren during a trial over the matter, but U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in his ruling chided the DeSantis administration for not reaching out and asking Warren questions about his actions before the suspension.
During Warren’s trial, however, a top member of the DeSantis administration mentioned Worrell as a possible “criminal reform” prosecutor whose actions may have merited further scrutiny. She signed the same pledge that Warren did regarding gender-affirming care.
Authorities charged Moses with killing three people last week, including 24-year-old television reporter Dylan Lyons and a nine-year-old girl. He’s also been charged with attempted murder for allegedly shooting two other people.
DeSantis’ general counsel Ryan Newman, in his letter to Worrell, questioned how Moses was allowed to “remain on the streets after multiple arrests, including one your office has refused to prosecute.” Moses was arrested last November for possession of marijuana, but authorities said his juvenile arrest record includes more serious charges.
“The failure of your office to hold this individual accountable for his actions — despite his extensive criminal history and gang affiliation — may have permitted this dangerous individual to remain on the street,” wrote Newman. “Clearly, Mr. Moses should have never been in a position to commit those senseless crimes of last week.”
Newman added that “as we seek to learn valuable lessons from this heartbreaking event, we must determine if Mr. Moses was enabled by gaps in our sentencing laws that must be corrected, or, to be frank, your office’s failure to properly administer justice.”
On Monday, DeSantis spoke out about the shootings, telling reporters: “I know the district attorney, state attorney, in Orlando thinks you don't prosecute people, and that's how you somehow have a better community. That does not work. You have these people with multiple arrests, multiple times where they can be held accountable, you keep cycling them out into the community, you are increasing the chances that something bad will happen.”
Worrell, who was first elected in November 2020 as the Orange-Osceola county state attorney, said in a statement that her office would compile all information requested by the governor’s office and turn it over in a “timely manner.”
She added that there had been a “number of misconceptions, some of which are included in the letter we received yesterday, floated by other elected officials in the aftermath of this tragedy that we are continually working to correct. The suggestions and accusations that my office’s 'policies' promote crime are empty political statements unsupported by actual facts. During my administration, the police arrested Mr. Moses on a single case — a misdemeanor possession of cannabis charge. Without evidence that conclusively proves Mr. Moses was in possession of illegal marijuana, it is simply not possible to prove a crime occurred. Therefore, my office did not pursue charges.”
Worrell is a former law school professor and once led the conviction integrity unit for the state attorney’s office. She campaigned as a criminal justice reform advocate and her campaign was assisted by a political committee that received financial backing from a group linked to George Soros, a billionaire and Democratic donor who has drawn the ire of Republicans.
Florida GOP Sen. Rick Scott — who stripped death penalty cases from Worrell’s predecessor when he was still Florida’s governor — has already called for Worrell’s firing, saying in a statement those killed “were victims of past justice denied and a leftist, soft-on-crime approach that is spreading like cancer through America's criminal justice system.”
Florida’s Constitution gives the governor the power to suspend elected officials for various reasons, including neglect of duty and malfeasance or commission of a felony.
Previous governors have primarily suspended local officials who have been arrested, but DeSantis has pursued a wider use of that power as he has removed election officials and school superintendents and sheriffs. He first used it to remove Scott Israel, the Broward County sheriff, over how his office responded to the Parkland shooting. Under the Constitution, a suspended official can ask to be reinstated by the Florida Senate.