Why did Gov. DeSantis suspend State Attorney Monique Worrell?

On Wednesday, Governor Ron DeSantis suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell, who represents Orange and Osceola Counties in the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court, for what he labeled as “incompetence” and consistently allowing “violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct.”

“The people of Central Florida deserve to have a State Attorney who will seek justice in accordance with the law instead of allowing violent criminals to roam the streets and find new victims,” said Gov. DeSantis in his statement.

“Ms. Worrell abdicated her responsibility as the circuit’s top prosecutor and her actions undermine the safety and security of our state and Floridians,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody.

The Governor’s press release follows months of accusations and public statements made against Worrell and her office for their prosecutorial record.

Orlando-News.com reviewed the last 18 months of press releases, news conferences, and statements made by Worrell and various law enforcement officials to create the following chronology of events.

Although this is not a complete record, it shows a clear pattern of Worrell repeatedly hosting press conferences, issuing public statements, and producing multi-page reports to defend her office against public criticism.

In February 2022, Worrell’s office issued a statement indicating that they “had no knowledge” of four cases connected to a suspect who was released on bond after firing shots at vehicles during multiple road rage incidents. Her office indicated that the “system collectively failed to handle this case” and that her office was “committed to working closely with” law enforcement.

In May 2022, Worrell’s office issued a statement indicating that a case involving an Osceola County Sheriff’s Office deputy under investigation had not been shared with her office. The statement indicated that OCSO had began its own internal investigation and stressed the importance of “law enforcement agencies” working “collaboratively in providing transparent investigations that are above reproach.” 

In the summer of 2022, Worrell and Orange County Sheriff John Mina held a private meeting in which Mina expressed his concerns with Worrell’s office regarding cases that were not being prosecuted.

Mina, who won reelection as the Orange County Sheriff in 2020 as a registered Democrat, has issued multiple statements over the past 18 months that, at the very least, call into question the working relationship between the two offices.

This year, Worrell has hosted press conferences or issued statements in at least a dozen instances in which her office or its actions were publicly criticized by law enforcement and state officials.

In January 2023, Worrell’s office issued a statement on the passing of Joanna Gomes, a pregnant mother of four who was killed by her boyfriend, Pierre Floriant. In the statement, Worrell indicated that there was “insufficient evidence for the State to move forward with criminal charges and prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.” The rest of the statement addressed domestic violence in the community, ending with “together, we can end domestic violence in our community.” 

In February 2023, Worrell’s office issued a 23-page report concerning an investigation into a fatal, officer-involved shooting that took place in Winter Park a year prior. The report indicated that the sergeant’s use of deadly force was “within generally accepted police practices” and that it did not violate any laws. 

On February 23, 2023, in light of two separate shootings in Pine Hills that claimed the lives of multiple individuals, including Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons and 9-year-old T’Yonna Major, Worrell’s office issued a statement that sought to clarify her office’s role in prosecuting Keith Moses, the alleged suspect in the shootings. 

“While the focus should be and remain on those we’ve lost, we recognize that our community is seeking clarity about Keith Moses’ previous arrests,” reads the statement. She went on to indicate that Moses’ had been arrested with marijuana as an adult, and provided background on how marijuana possession is prosecuted. 

On March 1, after her office received a letter from Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott regarding information about Keith Moses and the Pine Hills shootings, Worrell issued a five-paragraph response in which she decried “misconceptions” by the public and by other officials regarding her office. 

“There have 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,” reads the statement. She went on to decry any criticism of her office as “empty political statements unsupported by actual facts.” 

Worrell took exception with not having received Senator Scott’s letter in her office at the time. 

“Given that Sen. Scott didn’t send the letter to our office directly, but rather posted it on social media, the State Attorney’s office will not be responding to his request,” reads the statement. 

On March 9, Worrell head a press conference to provide details regarding her response to Governor DeSantis’ request. In a 1,500-word letter, she indicated that the “unfounded assertions and conclusions” in the Governor’s letter were “disappointing” and “irresponsible.” 

“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,” reads Worrell’s letter. 

Later that month, on March 20, Worrell’s office issued a statement indicating that her office could not prosecute a teenager in connection with a shooting at Jones High School in November 2022 that claimed the life of Gamaine Brown. 

In response to her statement, Worrell was criticized directly by Orlando Police Chief Eric Smith for releasing information during an ongoing investigation. 

On March 22, Worrell held a press conference to provide an update on the Jones High School shooting. 

On March 23, Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez held a press conference to detail dozens of cases that had not been prosecuted. According to Lopez, although there had been dozens of drug trafficking arrests in Osceola County in 2022, none of the offenders were prosecuted for drug trafficking.

A few days later, Worrell held a press conference and presented a 30-slide powerpoint presentation defending her office’s prosecution record.

On April 28, Worrell’s office issued a 500-word press release detailing a request by State Committeewoman Debbie Galvin on at least two cases in which “Worrell had failed to prosecute cases to get justice for victims of human trafficking crimes.” In response to the request, Worrell speculated as to its nature and discredited Galvin’s legitimacy. 

“We are unaware of Ms. Galvin’s relationship with Governor Ron DeSantis, and are equally unaware whether or not she has the authority to make such requests on his behalf,” reads the statement.

Worrell accused Galvin of being part of a bigger effort by Governor DeSantis to remove “another duly-elected prosecutor.” She stated that the requests were “unprecedented, especially given the fact that crime is down and has been down for the first two years I’ve been in office.” 

In early May, Worrell’s office issued a statement about all of its trial conviction data from the first quarter of 2023 in its “ongoing commitment to transparency.” 

On May 12, Worrell’s office issued an 800-word press release detailing the prosecution of a former Orlando Police Department officer. In the statement, Worrell indicated that her office had become aware of an officer-involved altercation in July 2020 through a YouTube compilation video. 

The former officer, Jonathan Mills, was arrested in 2021 and on May 12, 2023, he was sentenced to 30 days in Orange County Jail. The sentence spawned from an incident that took place on August 12, 2014, in which Mills’ search of a suspect for drugs was deemed excessive and egregious. 

At the time, Worrell expressed her “disappointment with the presence of the Fraternal Order of Police and uniformed law enforcement officers filing into the courtroom during the sentencing.” 

“When law enforcement inflicts heinous crimes on its citizens, this type of solidarity and support towards that former officer perpetuates the narrative that law enforcement is above the law,” said Worrell. 

On June 15, Worrell’s office issued a statement defending its actions in the release of Fredrick Howard, who was accused of trying to rape an 18-year-old female in an Orange County hotel. Worrell indicated that her office was unable to find a victim for over a month before Howard’s motion to be released from custody was granted. He was released on June 6 and committed the alleged crime on June 12. 

In response to the statement issued by Worrell’s office, the Orlando Police Department issued a statement denying Worrell’s classification of events. 

“It is disappointing that yet again, the investigative efforts of our agency are being unjustly scrutinized by the State Attorney,” read a statement issued by OPD on June 15.

On Monday, August 7, two days after two officers were shot and critically injured in downtown Orlando by Daton Viel, Worrell held a press conference to defend her office’s actions and indicated that Viel was released legally on bond. Despite all pertinent information having been released by police through the weekend, Worrell held the press conference to deny allegations and accusations that her office had once again let a criminal offender walk. 

“Again, we recognize the dangers of the job of law enforcement and do not take it lightly. It is important to not politicize a tragedy and know all of law enforcement shares a common goal,” reads a statement issued by Worrell. She took note to mention that the issue was brought up on social media by the Fraternal Order of Police of Orlando.

During a press conference held on Wednesday morning, Worrell indicated that she will still run for reelection and decried the suspension as a “witchhunt.” She opened the conference by indicating that this was the moment “you’ve all been waiting for,” and spoke for ten minutes before taking questions.

“If we’re mourning anything this morning, it is the loss of democracy,” said Worrell to open her remarks.

She referred to Gov. DeSantis as a “weak dictator,” and stated that “elected officials are being taken out of office solely for political purposes.”

“There used to be a very high standard for the removal of elected officials. There used to be a standard that I would have had to have been criminally prosecuted for something, neglecting my duties meaning that I don’t show up for work and do my job. Or that I had some sort of an illness that prevented me from doing my job,” said Worrell.

She referred to the suspension as a “smoke screen” and suggested it was a tactic for “Ron DeSantis’ failing, disastrous presidential campaign,” saying he needed to get “back in the media in some positive way.” She accused DeSantis of “single-handedly” destroying democracy in the state of Florida.

“He replaced his campaign manager yesterday, and I guess today is my turn. He is replacing me,” said Worrell, as she commented that her replacement, former Assistant State Attorney and current judge Andrew Bain, had lost to her in an election.

“So you see how that works, you lose an election and then you can just come back and be appointed to a position by the Governor,” said Worrell.

Worrell indicated that her office had prepared for this day in advance.

“I have already spoken with my legal team and they are assembled and they are prepared to fight this in the court system,” said Worrell, before suggesting that the court system was biased in favor against her.

“As you also know, the courts have been assembled by the Govenor. The legislature has a super majority in favor of the Governor. Justice does not prevail in the state of Florida,” said Worrell.

Worrell was elected to office in 2020 and says the suspension will not stop her from running for reelection during the upcoming election.

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