ORLANDO, Fla. — Speaking in Tallahassee Wednesday morning, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the immediate suspension of State Attorney Monique Worrell for what he called “neglect of duty and incompetence."
What You Need To Know
- Gov. DeSantis suspended State Attorney Monique Worrell Wednesday, effective immediately
- The move comes after a suspect with a significant arrest record shot and injured two Orlando officers Friday night
- According to officials, 28-year-old Daton S. Viel had three outstanding arrest warrants at the time of the shooting
- DeSantis has appointed former judge Andrew Bain to serve as State Attorney for the duration of the suspension
- RELATED: What to know about Andrew Bain, the new state attorney
The suspension comes after a suspect with a significant arrest record shot and injured two Orlando police officers Friday night in downtown Orlando, according to officials.
In a press release from the governor’s office, DeSantis said that Worrell, who serves Orange and Osceola counties, neglected her duty “to faithfully prosecute crime in her jurisdiction.”
“Worrell’s practices and policies have too often allowed violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct; thereby endangering the innocent civilians of Orange and Osceola counties,” the release read.
Worrell responds to suspension
Speaking outside the Orange County Courthouse Wednesday morning, though, Worrell struck back at DeSantis and condemned her suspension as a loss of democracy.
Calling it a “political hit job,” Worrell said the governor “and his cronies” have been searching for a reason for her suspension for more than a year, and called Wednesday's move nothing more than a “smokescreen for DeSantis’ disastrous campaign.”
“I am your duly elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit, and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that," she said. "Elected officials are being taken out of office solely for political purposes, and that should not be a thing.
"There used to be a very high standard for the removal of elected officials," she continued. "There used to be a standard that I would have had to be criminally prosecuted for something. Neglecting my duties, meaning that I don’t show up for work and do my job or that I had some sort of an illness that prevented me from doing my job. But under this tyranny, elected officials can be removed simply for political purposes and by the whim of the governor. And no matter how you feel about me, you should not be OK with that.”
During the press conference, Worrell noted that the Orlando Police Department said crime is down and that she plans to assemble a legal team to fight the suspension.
She said two deputy chief assistants were also fired Wednesday morning and noted how this will affect their families, along with her own.
“My children have to deal with this news the day before school starts,” she said.
Worrell said she received a phone call earlier Wednesday morning, notifying her that she had been suspended and to not return to the office. However, she said she has not heard from the governor directly.
Thanking the state attorney’s staff, Worrell said she would continue to fight and plans to run for reelection.
Law enforcement, legal community react
The two sheriffs covered by the Ninth Judicial District offered statements in the announcement of the new state attorney.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina says he looks forward to working with the new state attorney.
"We rely on our partnership with the State Attorney’s Office to ensure those offenders are held to account and kept off our streets," said Sheriff Mina. "We look forward to working with Judge Andrew Bain in his new role as state attorney."
Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez offered a similar sentiment.
"The criminal justice system only works when law enforcement investigates and arrests those who commit crime and the State Attorney’s Office prosecutes those offenders," said Sheriff Lopez. "We welcome Judge Andrew Bain as the new State Attorney and look forward to our offices working together for justice."
Members of the Fraternal Order of Police say they are pleased with the actions taken by the governor's office.
"We think it's been a long time coming," said Adam Krudo, President of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 25. "It's unfortunate that it took two of our officers being critically injured for this to finally get to this point."
Meantime, several spoke out against the governor's decision, including former State Attorney Aramis Ayala, who came before Worrell.
She says the move creates disorder.
“The best analogy I can give you is you chop the head off and the body goes flailing around," said Ayala. It is complete chaos without proper leadership, without organization."
In recent months it has been well documented and reported different law enforcement officials have spoken out in their disapproval of Worrell.
It's an issue Ayala believes to be unfair.
“We have had issues with crime, we have had issues with victimizations, and victims being treated not the way they need to be treated, now all of the sudden, the only person to blame for this is the state attorney. Who is not aligning politically with the governor," she said.
Jason Blank, President-Elect of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says he is not surprised by the move and calls the removal of Worrell a weaponization of government.
“That's a problem. We have criminal courts that are backed up. People who are seeking justice both on the defense side and the victims side," said Blank. "When we play these types of games in our criminal courts we do nothing but hurt the voters in the state of Florida.”
One of the precursors to DeSantis' announcement Wednesday was an incident in Orlando over the weekend that left two police officers seriously injured.
The suspect, 28-year-old Daton S. Viel, had three outstanding arrest warrants — two in Florida and one in Georgia — and had been arrested on four felony charges in Orange County since 2016, court records show.
Viel had also been awaiting trial for the sexual battery of a young girl when the shooting occurred, officials said. Orlando police arrested Viel in March in connection with the sexual battery of a teen and he was released on a $125,000 bond in June after pleading not guilty.
Viel first came onto the radar of Orlando police Friday night when he was spotted next to a car — in the area of East Washington Street and North Garland Avenue — that was connected to a murder in Miami.
Investigators said Viel fired shots at the approaching officers before carjacking someone and fleeing the area.
The stolen vehicle was reportedly found in Apopka near a property where records show Viel once lived.
He was later found at a Holiday Inn off Caravan Court, near Universal Orlando resort. Orlando Police’s SWAT team was called to the scene around 6 a.m. Saturday and evacuated the hotel before Viel reportedly started shooting. SWAT officers returned fire, officials said, killing Viel at the scene.
Considering his arrest record and the outstanding warrants issued for his arrest, Worrell held a press conference on Monday to explain why he was on the street Friday, instead of behind bars.
“There have been a lot of questions regarding why was Mr. Viel out on the street so that this tragic event that occurred on Saturday could take place,” she said. “And I want to take this as an opportunity to clear up some misinformation that has been spread ... and use this as an opportunity to educate the community a little bit on the criminal process and what happens when someone is arrested.”
Worrell said whether an individual is kept in jail while their case moves forward is ultimately the discretion of the presiding judge. She said the judge in this case had taken his danger to the public seriously by setting an “unusually high” $125,000 bond.
As for the outstanding warrants, she said that officers would have taken him into custody on all three if they had been able to apprehend him.
Ultimately, though, she said that beyond the what-ifs and if-I-had-onlys, swirling around the case, there was only one person responsible for what happened.
“Now I’ve said many times before it’s really important to understand that when incidents like this happen, the community wants answers,” she said. “And it is natural to want to find out who’s at fault for why this incident took place. But it is important to understand that the only individual who can be blamed for incidents like these is the individual who took those actions. The perpetrator of theses horrific events, that’s the person to blame.”
New state attorney
DeSantis has appointed former judge Andrew Bain to serve as State Attorney for the duration of the suspension.
“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 in a release.
Orange County Sheriff John Mina sent a statement welcoming the partnership between Bain and the sheriff's office:
"Our focus at the Orange County Sheriff's Office is to protect our community from violent criminals. We rely on our partnership with the State Attorney's Office to ensure those offenders are held to account and kept off our streets. We look forward to working with Judge Andrew Bain in his new role as State Attorney. Any additional questions regarding this matter should be directed to the Governor's office."
Worrell is the second state attorney suspended by the governor. DeSantis suspended former state attorney Andrew Warren in August 2022.
Spectrum News spoke Wednesday with Warren, who is still fighting his suspension in court. He said he wasn’t surprised of the news of Worrell’s suspension.
“There had been rumors circulating for the better part of a year that the governor was targeting State Attorney Worrell,” Warren said. “I guess it’s not a surprise it came the day after the governor had to shake up his presidential campaign because he’s floundering in the polls.”
Suzy Lopez took over for Warren and said Wednesday that the governor took “decisive action to restore law and order to the 9th Circuit.
“I look forward to meeting with Judge Bain and welcoming him to the small group of State Attorneys across the state,” she said.
Watch: Worrell responds to being suspended by DeSantis