DeSantis also accused Warren of not prosecuting criminals to the fullest extent of his powers as Hillsborough County State’s Attorney.
“To take the position that you have veto power over state laws is untenable,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tampa, surrounded by law enforcement.
The move by DeSantis, a Republican, to oust a Democrat elected twice by Hillsborough voters drew an immediate and sharp rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and state officials. Minority Leader Sen. Lauren Book said DeSantis “behaved more like a dictator than ‘America’s governor.'” And Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor, called Warren’s suspension “a politically motivated attack on a worldwide respected state prosecutor, democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”
“Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” Fried said.
A spokeswoman for Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment. His office canceled a previously scheduled press conference for 3 p.m
DeSantis said the decision to suspend Warren came after he asked staff to look into whether some state’s attorneys in Florida had taken it upon themselves to “determine what laws they like and enforce,” after watching prosecutors in other states refuse to practice charges for certain crimes. . That review led them to Warren, who has become an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform and overturning wrongful convictions.
“The governor shouldn’t have come to Hillsborough County and cleaned up our mess,” former Tampa Police Chief Brian Duggan said during the news conference. “That’s really the point.”
Under Florida law, a governor can remove “any county officer” for a felony, dereliction of duty, drunkenness, incapacity, permanent incapacity to perform official duties, or commission of a felony. The Florida Senate has the power to reinstate a suspended official or remove that person from office.
DeSantis appointed Susan Lopez to serve as state’s attorney during Warren’s suspension. He previously appointed Lopez as a district court judge in Hillsborough County. DeSantis told reporters he did not speak with Warren before the announcement.
Warren was first elected attorney general in 2016, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent in a close race that featured a left-leaning Florida county. He was re-elected in 2020, winning a higher percentage of the Hillsborough County vote than President Joe Biden.
During his early years in office, Warren kept a relatively low profile as he quietly modernized the bureau and enacted criminal justice reforms. In 2018, he endorsed the re-election campaign of the county’s Republican Sheriff-elect, Chad Chronister, and frequently held press conferences with law enforcement. In turn, Chronister praised Warren in the months leading up to the Democratic campaign for a second term.
But Chronister hosted Thursday’s press conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and delivered a stinging critique of Warren while standing next to DeSantis. (Chronister’s wife, Nicole DeBartolo, and father-in-law, Edward DeBartolo, a former NFL owner who was pardoned a presidential check by Donald Trump, donated a combined $472,000 to DeSantis’ re-election campaign.)
Warren became increasingly critical of DeSantis during the pandemic. Early in the coronavirus outbreak, he publicly condemned the governor’s decision to allow megachurches to operate in Florida days after a Tampa pastor was arrested for defiantly holding an in-person service. Later that summer, Warren announced that he would not prosecute 67 people who were arrested at a protest following the death of George Floyd.
But it was Warren’s foray into the country’s political divide over transgender and abortion care that sparked Thursday’s action by DeSantis. Warren last year joined dozens of local and state prosecutors who signed a letter authored by the progressive organization Fair and Just Prosecution denouncing laws that criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care to transgender people. After the US Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate constitutional protections for abortion, Warren signed another Fair and Justice letter pledging to use discretion not to use “limited resources of the criminal justice system” to to prosecute those who seek, provide or support abortions;
“These are really, I think, outrageous and again, it’s beyond the exercise of discretion,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has used his power to alienate some elected officials more than his predecessors. In one of his first actions as governor, DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who was overseeing the police response to the deadly mass shooting at a Parkland high school.