MIAMI — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended Tampa’s top prosecutor for accusing him of incompetence and dereliction of duty for vowing not to prosecute those seeking or granting abortions.
In a surprise announcement, Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, was suspended from office Andrew H. Warren, Hillsborough County’s elected attorney. In June, Mr. Warren, a Democrat, one of 90 elected prosecutors across the country who promised not to prosecute those seeking or granting abortions after the Supreme Court overthrown Roe v. Wade. Florida imposed a 15-week abortion ban in April.
The decision immediately raised concerns among Democrats, including Mr. Warren, who says the governor has become increasingly heavy-handed.
mr. DeSantis said Mr. Warren amounted to “incompetence and willful failure to perform his duties,” and that the prosecutor of the job left Mr. DeSantis no choice but to suspend him.
“When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you go above the law, you have breached your duty, you have neglected your duty, and you demonstrate a lack of ability to perform those duties,” said Mr. DeSantis. . to cheers at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he was flanked by a bunch of uniformed sheriffs and police chiefs.
The suspension of Mr. Warren, a prominent Democrat and frequent DeSantis critic serving as chief prosecutor for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County in his second term, apparently made headlines even at his office.
Mr Warren said in a statement that his suspension “spit in the face of voters”.
“Today’s political stunt is an illegal oversight that continues a dangerous pattern of Ron DeSantis using his office to further his own political ambition,” said Mr Warren, adding: “The people have a right to their own leaders. to choose—not to have them, dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and again that he feels responsible to no one.”
The law enforcement officers who appeared with Mr. DeSantis expressed frustration with Mr. Warren for failing to prosecute certain crimes. “Andrew Warren is a scammer,” said Brian Dugan, former chief of police for Tampa.
The sheriffs and police chiefs took turns praising Mr. DeSantis and criticizing liberal-minded cities—New Orleans, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco—by name. Anti-abortion groups also cheered 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 wrestle openly, Mr. DeSantis’ intervention — and his trumpeting of it — surprised Florida officials. Under Florida law, a governor can suspend state officials for misconduct, including dereliction of duty, incompetence, felony, intoxication, or committing a felony. Mr. DeSantis’ Republican predecessor, Rick Scott, tended to suspend elected officials only after being charged with a crime.
In 2017, when Aramis D. Ayala, a Democrat who was then the state’s attorney in Orlando, startled the state by saying that it would not seek the death penalty under any circumstances, and Mr. Scott assigned more than two dozen cases to another prosecutor’s office. But he did not suspend Ms. Ayala, who declined to be re-elected after her term in office and is now running for Florida Attorney General.
Mr. DeSantis has been much more aggressive. Shortly after taking office in 2019, he suspended Broward County Democrat Sheriff Scott Israel, accusing him of his handling of the 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland high school, even though Mr. Israel was not charged with criminal charges. Mr. Israel unsuccessfully appealed his suspension to the state courts and Senate and later lost a reelection bid.
Mr. DeSantis is up for re-election in November and has been increasingly criticized by Democrats that his approach to government has become increasingly authoritarian. On Thursday, the two leading Democrats vying to challenge him, Representative Charlie Crist and Nikki Fried, the state’s agriculture commissioner, responded to Mr Warren’s suspension by calling Mr DeSantis in statements a “wannabe dictator” (the Mr Crist) and a “dictator” (Mrs Fried).
Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, which issued the statement against the criminalization of abortion signed by Mr. Warren in June, called his suspension “an unprecedented and dangerous breach of the separation of powers and voters’ will. “
“Governors don’t elect elected prosecutors, the voters do,” she said in a statement. “With this outrageous reach, 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 about 53 percent of the vote in 2020. He was one of several accusers backed in 2016 by groups backed by billionaire liberal investor George Soros. Mr. DeSantis did not mention Mr. Soros on Thursday, but appeared to allude to him, saying that Mr. Warren had been running a campaign funded by out-of-state donors. mr. DeSantis himself has amassed a campaign war chest filled with out-of-state donations.
“Criminalizing and prosecuting those seeking or providing abortion care is a mockery of justice,” Mr Warren and the other prosecutors said in their joint statement in June. “Prosecutors should not be part of that.”
Mr. Warren had previously criticized Mr. DeSantis for enacting anti-protest legislation and establishing an electoral crimes office.
In his Thursday comments, Mr. DeSantis issued a second statement from Fair and Just Prosecution that Mr. Warren signed and 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 is essentially awake, where you decide that your view of social justice means that certain laws shouldn’t be enforced,” Mr DeSantis said.
Mr. DeSantis recently quashed surgeries for transgender adolescents and says doctors who perform such procedures should be sued. Major medical groups have endorsed so-called gender-affirming medical care for teenage patients, including the use of puberty blockers and hormones when needed. Genital surgeries are not recommended for those under the age of 18, while guidelines allow mastectomy to be offered to teens 15 and older.
The Florida Department of Health has said it opposes all transition-related care for children, including social changes such as names and pronouns.
Azee Ghorayshi reporting contributed. Kitty Bennett research contributed.