DeSantis suspends Orlando area prosecutor, saying she has ‘abused discretion,’ ‘breached duties’

Gov. Ron DeSantis announces the suspension of an Orlando-area state attorney. (WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has removed another Democratic prosecutor, this time the state attorney from the 9th Judicial Circuit, which covers Orlando.

DeSantis said State Attorney Monique Worrell has been suspended, effectively immediately, and former Judge Andrew Bain will be taking over her duties for Orange and Osceola counties.

At a news conference in Tallahassee DeSantis said Worrell was being suspended “for neglecting her duty to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.” The suspension follows an investigation that began when a teenager in Orlando was charged with fatally shooting a television reporter and a 9-year-old girl.

To view the Executive Order suspending Worrell and appointing Bain, click here.

During the news conference, DeSantis cited specific examples that he said “too often allowed violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct.”

“Prosecutors do have a certain amount of discretion about which cases to bring and which not, but what this state attorney has done is abuse that discretion and has effectively nullified certain laws in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “That breaches her duties that she owes to the people of Florida under our state constitution and provides the basis for this suspension.”

Speaking to reporters shortly after DeSantis announced her suspension Wednesday, Worrell decried what she called the “loss of democracy” through DeSantis’ action.

“I am your duly elected state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit, and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that,” Worrell said.

Worrell vowed to seek reelection next year and said her removal was political and not about her performance. She also suggested DeSantis’ timing was to distract from a stagnant presidential campaign that’s faced layoffs and changes at the top as it’s struggled to regain traction.

“He needed to get back in the media in some positive way that would be red meat for his base and he will have accomplished that today,” she said. “He replaced his campaign manager yesterday, and I guess today it’s my turn.”

DeSantis last year removed State Attorney Andrew Warren, a twice-elected Democrat in Tampa, over his signing of pledges that said he would not pursue criminal charges against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments, as well as policies about not bringing charges for certain low-level crimes.

Worrell’s suspension came after she drew criticism from police union leaders who said her office should have done more to keep behind bars a man accused of shooting two Orlando police officers on Friday.

“We had a duty to act to protect the public from this dereliction of duty,” DeSantis said during the news conference.

DeSantis accused Worrell’s office of mishandling the arrest and detention of Daton Viel, who allegedly shot two police officers on Friday before being killed Saturday morning by an Orlando SWAT team. Viel was arrested in March and charged with sexual battery on a minor but was released after posting a $125,000 bail bond in April.

Worrell said that she has spoken with her legal team and plans to challenge her suspension. She defended her record as state attorney and said that two high-ranking employees in her office also were fired as part of the governor’s actions.

“I was elected by the people of the 9th Judicial Circuit to lead this circuit. And yes, to do things unconventionally, to do things differently. But I didn’t hide. … I did exactly what I said I would do, and that is what you want from an elected official,” Worrell said.

DeSantis’ office began investigating Worrell earlier this year after 19-year-old Keith Moses was charged with first degree murder in the deaths of Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons, Nathacha Augustin and 9-year-old T’yonna Major. The girl’s mother and Spectrum News 13 photographer Jesse Walden were also shot in the Orlando area in February.

Shortly after the shooting, DeSantis’ general counsel said in a letter to Worrell that she failed to hold Moses accountable despite his criminal record and gang affiliation. The governor’s office sought Moses’ juvenile records, which are usually protected.

In his announcement Wednesday, DeSantis cited other cases and said Worrell avoided minimum mandatory sentences on charges that included gun crimes, drug trafficking and child pornography. He also said the state attorney’s office had a pattern of letting juveniles avoid serious charges or incarceration and noted the shooting over the weekend of two Orlando police officers by a 28-year-old man with a long criminal history.

But Democrats said Worrell’s suspension was politically motivated and noted she is the only Black woman in Florida elected to serve as a state attorney.

“This is absolutely disgusting,” said Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani. “Her removal is a complete slap in the face to Orange and Osceola County residents and another example of Governor DeSantis eroding our local control and democracy. This politically motivated action by the Governor in a predominantly democratic part of the state should alarm everyone.”

But Republicans and law enforcement officials praised the governor’s actions.

Worrell’s suspension “is absolutely imperative for the protection of our citizens,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody, who also flanked DeSantis at Wednesday’s event.

“If she were allowed to continue in this office, her failure would continue to cause needless pain, suffering, and death,” Moody added.

Moody said Worrell has dismissed charges or failed to file cases against defendants at a higher rate than any other prosecutor.

Central Florida law enforcement officials, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, also backed the suspension.

In his executive order suspending Worrell, DeSantis cited state law that allows him to remove officials for neglect of duty and incompetence, the same law he cited when he suspended Warren, the Tampa prosecutor, last year.

Bain has most recently served as an Orange County judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit. He previously served as Assistant State Attorney in the 9th Circuit under State Attorney Jeffrey L. Ashton. He received his law degree from Florida A&M University College of Law and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami.

“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,” DeSantis said.

Bain, a Republican, said the job is quite “simple.” He said, “We are here to prosecute crimes and to hold people accountable.”

Worrell said she knows and respects Bain and wouldn’t criticize him, adding that the issue is about DeSantis.

“Elected officials are being taken out of office for political purposes and that should never be a thing,” she said.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.