TAMPA, Fla. — The practice by a Florida prosecutor, who was suspended from his job by Gov. Ron DeSantis, of not prosecuting suspended licenses, disorderly conduct and other low-level misdemeanors has been dropped by his successor.
Susan Lopez who was appointed as state attorney for the Tampa area after DeSantis removed Andrew Warren from office told her staff last week that she is rescinding the practice.
The Tampa Bay Times reports that local leaders and experts fear that the change will disproportionately affect people of color and the poor.
They’re often “crimes of poverty,” said Melba Pearson, of the Center for Administrative Justice at Florida International University.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister had criticized Warren’s non-prosecution practice.
“By unilaterally stating you are not going to prosecute, you are failing to hold individuals accountable for their actions, which only empowers them to commit additional crimes,” Chronister wrote in a letter to Warren earlier this year.
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Lopez met with the NAACP Hillsborough County chapter last week after the organization received a concerning memo from her office. The letter said, in part, that her office would again begin prosecuting cases against African Americans under a highly criticized Tampa police policy dubbed "Biking while Black."
A Department of Justice investigation found fault with the policing program nearly six years ago – saying it disproportionately targeted African Americans with no demonstrative impact on crime.
“Why would you go back to such a policy that continues to institutionalize and continues to perpetuate systemic racism?” NAACP Hillsborough Chapter President Yvette Lewis asked. “It takes us way back. Erases all of the conversations that we had.”
Lopez said in a statement last week that her office “will evaluate every case law enforcement sends us and make a decision about whether to prosecute. Some cases will go forward. Some will not.”
Warren, a Democrat, was suspended earlier this month by DeSantis, a Republican seeking re-election in November and a potential 2024 presidential candidate. The governor cited neglect of duty and other alleged violations from Warren signing statements with dozens of other prosecutors nationwide vowing not to pursue criminal cases against people who seek or provide abortions or gender transition treatments.
Warren said the governor was essentially seeking to nullify the will of voters in the Tampa area who elected him in 2016 and 2020.
10 Tampa Bay's Eric Glasser contributed to this article.