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DeSantis suspends Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren; official calls move 'illegal overreach'

DeSantis argued that Warren violated his oath of office and selectively picked the types of laws he enforced.

TAMPA, Fla. — Surrounded by law enforcement officers, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren due to what he described as a "neglect of duty."

According to an order released by the governor's office, Warren "demonstrated his incompetence and willful defiance of his duty" starting at least in 2021. DeSantis' order cited article four, section seven of the Florida Constitution in allowing him to suspend Warren.

The order cites joint statements Warren issued on topics including transition-related health care for transgender youth, abortion rights and his instituting policies against prosecuting certain "criminal violations" as reasons for his suspension.

Speaking during a news conference Thursday at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, DeSantis said Warren violated his oath of office and picked and chose the types of laws he enforced.

"When you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty," DeSantis said.

Since 2016, Warren had served the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County and was reelected in 2020. In response to DeSantis suspending him, Warren is expected to hold a news conference with his own lawyer at 3 p.m.

In the meantime, Warren issued the following statement: 

"Today’s political stunt is an illegal overreach that continues a dangerous pattern by Ron DeSantis of using his office to further his own political ambition. It spits in the face of the voters of Hillsborough County who have twice elected me to serve them, not Ron DeSantis.

"In our community, crime is low, our Constitutional rights—including the right to privacy—are being upheld, and the people have the right to elect their own leaders—not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and again he feels accountable to no one."

"Just because the governor violates your rights, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

Later Thursday evening, nearly 100 people gathered outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse in support of Warren.

10 Tampa Bay's Hannah Dineen was on the scene where they were also reportedly advocating for abortion access and LGBTQ+ issues.

The latest available data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement show that while crime in Hillsborough County dropped from 2019 to 2020, violent crime went up 85 percent. The state defines violent crimes as murders, rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults.

Violent crime has been up nationwide, as well, according to FBI data.

In Warren's place, DeSantis has appointed current Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez to serve as the acting state attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit. According to the governor's office, before she was appointed in 2021 by DeSantis as a judge, she previously served for more than 15 years as assistant state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circut and as staff attorney of the Second District Court of Appeal. 

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and others stood with the governor during the announcement.

RELATED: What happens in Florida with Roe v. Wade overturned

Credit: 13th Judicial Circuit Hillsborough County
Susan Lopez

Former Tampa Chief of Police Brian Dugan, who raised concerns about Warren having dropped charges against 67 protestors in Tampa in the wake of George Floyd's murder, called Warren a "fraud" and said DeSantis having to step in "should never have happened."

RELATED: Hillsborough state attorney will not charge 67 arrested in Tampa for unlawful assembly

DeSantis and other law enforcement officials heavily criticized Warren on several issues: One was for his June joint statement with prosecutors nationwide declining to go after people "who seek, provide, or support abortions" following the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. 

The governor's office said Warren joined other elected prosecutors last year in supporting "gender-transition treatments for children" and bathroom usage based on gender identity. Though DeSantis conceded it wasn't in violation of any current state law, he said it one day could be and so was included.

Both of these joint statements, the order said, were "willful defiance" of his duties.

On Friday, the Florida Board of Medicine is set to review a proposal from the Florida Department of Health that would essentially ban transition-related care for transgender youth. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who was confirmed by lawmakers following DeSantis' recommendation, supports the proposal.

The order also states Warren "acted as a law unto himself" by instituting several policies. One included "presumptive non-enforcement for certain criminal violations, including trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication and prostitution." 

Another cited in the order said Warren wouldn't prosecute crimes "where the initial encounter between law enforcement and the defendant results from a non-criminal violation in connection with riding a bicycle or a pedestrian violation.

"This presumption of non-prosecution applies even to crimes of misdemeanor resisting arrest without violence." 

Warren publically criticized the DeSantis-backed so-called "anti-riot" bill, stating there were "so many things wrong" with the legislation.

Chronister said he believed Warren's suspension wasn't a political move and was the right decision.

Nocco said, in part, "We have a governor that will defend us," praising DeSantis for his continued support of law enforcement. 

Both Democratic gubernatorial candidates looking to oppose DeSantis in November released statements opposing the governor's decision to suspend Warren. 

“This is a politically motivated attack on a universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion," Nikki Fried said in a statement. "Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully. He’s doing this because he wants to be dictator, not a governor of Florida. That’s not how this works, though. This will backfire. We just saw it in Kansas. Florida is a pro-choice, pro-democracy state. If this stands, the people of Florida will put an end to it in November.”

Stated Charlie Crist, "The people of Hillsborough elected Andrew Warren not once, but twice, because of his commitment to safety and justice for all people. This action by Governor DeSantis is that of a wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first. He doesn't give a damn about women or average Floridians. It’s a flagrant abuse of power.

“If Governor DeSantis was truly worried about the people of Florida, he would focus on the affordability crisis that’s crushing our state and squeezing working families.”

The Democratic National Committee also weighed in, with DNC Spokesperson Ammar Moussa releasing a statement.

“Ron DeSantis is so hellbent on banning abortion and throwing doctors in jail he’s willing to overturn the will of Florida voters and suspend a democratically elected state attorney," Moussa wrote. "It’s fundamentally un-American and a clear demonstration of what extremes DeSantis will go to to infringe on Floridans’ freedoms.”

While not everyone is happy about it, Florida's State Constitution does allow a governor to suspend state or county officers who are found to be neglecting their duties, among other reasons. The State Senate gets to judge the merits of the suspension and can reinstate anybody the governor suspends.

A Senate committee or special master will likely hold a hearing on the matter within the next three months.

Current Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson’s office confirmed it had not received any advanced notice from DeSantis' office about Thursday's announcement.

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