DeSantis suspends Tampa prosecutor who vowed not to criminalize abortion

MIAMI — Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida on Thursday suspended the Tampa attorney general, accusing him of incompetence and dereliction of duty for swearing not to prosecute those who request or perform abortions.

In a startling announcement, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, suspended Hillsborough County District Attorney-elect Andrew H. Warren from office. In June, Mr. Warren, a Democrat, was among 90 elected prosecutors across the country who vowed not to prosecute those who request or perform abortions after the Supreme Court. quashed Roe v. Wade. Florida imposed a 15-week abortion ban in April.

The decision immediately raised concerns among Democrats, including Mr Warren, who say the governor has become increasingly authoritarian.

Mr. DeSantis said Mr. Warren’s declaration of abortion and other actions amounted to “incompetence and willful disregard of duty”, and that the prosecutor’s approach to the job does not left Mr. DeSantis no choice but to suspend it.

“When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you place yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty and you show a lack of competence to be able to exercise these functions “said Mr. DeSantis. to cheers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he was flanked by a group of uniformed sheriffs and police chiefs.

The suspension of Mr. Warren, a rising Democratic star and frequent critic of DeSantis who is serving his second term as chief prosecutor of the 13th Judicial Circuit for Hillsborough County, was obviously stunning news even for his office, which had planned a Thursday afternoon press conference to announce a development in a cold-blooded murder case. The conference was canceled after Mr. DeSantis announced Mr. Warren’s suspension on Thursday morning.

Mr Warren said in a statement that his suspension “spits in the face of voters”.

‘Today’s political stunt is an unlawful overreach that perpetuates a dangerous Ron DeSantis pattern of using his office to pursue his own political ambition,’ Mr Warren said, adding: ‘The people have a right to elect its own leaders – not to have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and time again that he does not feel accountable to anyone.

Law enforcement officials who appeared with Mr. DeSantis expressed frustration with Mr. Warren for not prosecuting certain crimes. “Andrew Warren is an impostor,” former Tampa Police Department chief Brian Dugan said.

Sheriffs and police chiefs took turns praising Mr. DeSantis and criticizing liberal-leaning cities — New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco — by name. Anti-abortion groups also applauded Mr. DeSantis.

“Want to know why some people move to Florida?” said Mr. DeSantis. “Because their communities are no longer safe, thanks to prosecutors who think they know better.”

Even in a state where governors and prosecutors are known to fight in the open, Mr. DeSantis’ intervention — and his trumpeting — left Florida officials flabbergasted. Under Florida law, a governor can suspend state officials for wrongdoing, including neglect of duty, incompetence, embezzlement, drunkenness, or commission of a crime. Mr. DeSantis’ Republican predecessor, Rick Scott, tended to suspend elected officials only after they were charged with a crime.

In 2017, when Aramis D. Ayalaa Democrat who was then a district attorney in Orlando, surprised the state by saying she wouldn’t ask for the death penalty in any case, Mr. Scott reassigned more than two dozen cases to another state’s attorney’s office. But he did not suspend Ms. Ayala, who did not seek re-election after her term and is now running for Florida attorney general.

Mr. DeSantis was much more aggressive. Shortly after taking office in 2019, he suspended Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County, a Democrat, chastising him for his handling of the mass shooting at a Parkland high school in 2018, even though Mr. Israel had not been criminally charged. Mr. Israel unsuccessfully appealed his suspension to the courts and the State Senate and then lost a re-election bid.

Mr. DeSantis is running for re-election in November and is facing growing criticism from Democrats that his approach to governance has become increasingly authoritarian. On Thursday, the two leading Democrats vying to challenge him, Rep. Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, the state agriculture commissioner, reacted to Mr. Warren’s suspension by calling Mr. DeSantis in statements ” budding dictator” (Mr. Crist) and a “dictator” (Mrs. Fried).

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, which released the declaration against the criminalization of abortion that Mr Warren signed in June, called his suspension “an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion into the separation of powers and the will of the voters”.

“Governors don’t select elected prosecutors, voters do,” she said in a statement. “With this outrageous overspending, Governor DeSantis is sending a clear message that the will of the people of Hillsborough County matters less than his own political agenda.”

Mr Warren was elected to a second four-year term with around 53% of the vote in 2020. He was one of several prosecutors backed in 2016 by groups backed by billionaire liberal investor George Soros. Mr. DeSantis did not name Mr. Soros on Thursday but appeared to allude to him, saying Mr. Warren ran a campaign funded by out-of-state donors. Mr. DeSantis himself has amassed a campaign war chest overflowing with out-of-state donations.

“Criminalizing and prosecuting people who seek or provide abortion care is a travesty of justice,” Mr. Warren and the other prosecutors said in their joint statement in June. “Prosecutors should not be part of this.”

Mr. Warren previously criticized Mr. DeSantis for enact anti-protest legislation and creation of an office of electoral crimes.

In his remarks Thursday, Mr. DeSantis cited a second statement from Fair and Just Prosecution which Mr. Warren signed which pledged not to criminalize “transgender people and gender-affirming health care”.

“I don’t think the people of Hillsborough want to have an agenda that’s fundamentally woke, where you decide that your view of social justice means certain laws shouldn’t be enforced,” DeSantis said.

Kitty Bennett contributed research.

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