‘It’s dangerous:’ Worrell accuses DeSantis of politicizing Pine Hills tragedy to get her suspended

State attorney again defends her office, calls for passage of juvenile justice reform

ORLANDO, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell announced Thursday that she answered Gov. Ron DeSantis’ investigation into her office with the documents he requested, but not without once again defending her office against claims by DeSantis and other officials that she called “political fearmongering.”

She also said she was well aware of an effort by the governor to build a case for her suspension, accusing him of targeting her because she is a Democrat, and likening his actions to the suspension of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren last year, also a Democrat.

“This isn’t about whether or not my policies are a danger to public safety. This is about the governor wanting to control the politics across this state. And quite frankly, it’s dangerous, because this is a democracy, not a dictatorship,” she said.

Worrell said the request from the governor was part of his effort to build a case against her. She also accused the sheriffs of Orange and Osceola counties of working with the governor to build that case for suspension, and said the governor’s office has been interviewing local law enforcement and people who leave the state attorney’s office to find out if Worrell had any non-prosecution policies, which Worrell said she did not.

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The Orange County Sheriff’s Office denied Worrell’s accusation in a statement to News 6:

“Sheriff Mina has had no conversations with the governor or the governor’s office about building a case to remove State Attorney Worrell. That statement is categorically false.”

Orange County Sheriff's Office spokesperson

We have reached out to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office have not heard back.

Last month, Worrell received a letter from DeSantis’ office asking for:

  1. Copies of all documents related to Keith Moses, the suspect accused of killing three people last month in Pine Hills
  2. Copies of all policies, reports and other documents related to decisions made by the office regarding Moses
  3. Copies of all documents related to Moses’s juvenile felony probation
  4. Copies of communication between the state attorney’s office and an officer
  5. “Information on the number and circumstances of individuals who (1) were arrested for committing a felony or had violated the terms of their probation by being arrested for a crime, (2) had a prior criminal history, and (3) were not prosecuted by your office.”

“We must determine if Mr. Moses was enabled by gaps in our sentencing laws that must be corrected, or, to be frank, your office’s failure to properly administer justice,” a lawyer for the governor’s office wrote in the letter.

News 6 asked DeSantis’ office for a statement on Worrell’s accusations. A spokesperson said the original letter is their position on the matter, and they expect compliance.

Worrell said she complied with the first four requests by DeSantis’ office, but she will not be complying with the fifth request because she said it was unrealistic to do so by the deadline set by his office, which was March 14.

“In order for us to do that, we would have to pull every single case,” Worrell said. “We would then need to determine if the individual had any prior criminal history, that criminal history could range from a lengthy criminal history to one prior arrest. We’d essentially be looking at more than 350,000 cases. And that would be a cost to the taxpayers of approximately $800,000.”

She said she would be willing to provide specifics on any cases the governor wished to inquire about, “However, it is not feasible for us to do an audit of this entire office in order to satisfy the governor’s political endeavors.”

The escalating rhetoric between DeSantis and Worrell began with the shootings on Feb. 22 in the Pine Hills area of Orange County. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Keith Moses committed a string of shootings over several hours, killing Nathacha Augustin, 38, Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons, 24 and T’yonna Major, 9.

He’s also accused of injuring T’yonna’s Major’s mother, Brandi Major, and Spectrum News 13 photographer Jesse Walden.

In DeSantis’ first statements about the shooting, he accused Worrell of not prosecuting suspects.

“I know the district attorney, state attorney in Orlando thinks that you don’t prosecute people and that’s the way that you somehow have better communities. That does not work,” DeSantis said. “You have to hold people accountable.”


Worrell, however, pointed out her rate of cases dropped came within 1% of the rates of the last four Orange-Osceola county state attorneys, releasing the following statistics:

  • Republican Lawson Lamar (last 4 years in office): 43.55%
  • Democrat Jeff Ashton: 42.58%
  • Democrat Aramis Ayala: 48.34%
  • Democrat Monique Worrell (two years in office): 43.96%

Worrell also said her office has the burden of proving a case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.

For instance, in the case of Keith Moses, his lone arrest as an adult in 2021 for a drug charge was not prosecuted because Worrell said the amount of cannabis in the case was only 4.6 grams, which the Florida Department of Law Enforcement won’t test to prove it’s cannabis.

“In 2019, Gov. DeSantis executed Senate Bill 1020. And that amended the legal definition of cannabis to require a minimum of 0.3% of THC. Now, what this means is that it became difficult if not impossible for us to differentiate legal hemp from illegal cannabis,” Worrell said.

She distributed memorandums and news articles from state attorneys across the state at the time the law was signed, showing they would decline to prosecute arrests for small amounts of marijuana because they would not be able to test it.

Worrell said instead of looking for faults in her own department, the governor should be looking at all levels of the justice system, including law enforcement offices.

Worrell asked why the Orange County Sheriff’s Office did not do a DNA test for the firearm that was found with Moses when he and several other people were pulled over in the 2021 case that led to Moses’s arrest for marijuana possession. Worrell said her office could not charge Moses for having the gun because of that.

“It was difficult to determine who was actually in possession of the firearm,” Worrell said. “In those cases where we do not receive evidence that is conclusive about who was an actual possession of the firearm we are unable to meet our burden to prove that case beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Worrell once again called for passage of HB 1273, a bill that would make changes to the juvenile justice system to give the court more jurisdiction over a juvenile offender. In the past Worrell has said the state’s system doesn’t allow for a long enough time to put a juvenile offender, particularly a violent juvenile offender, through programs to rehabilitate them.

“When you have a child who is involved in some sort of gun activity or gang activity, because we are seeing increasing gang activity here in Central Florida, removing them for a few months isn’t really long enough to break those connections,” Worrell said. “However, if we can retain jurisdiction over them for. I don’t know. If they’re 15 for 10 years? Then we can remove them longer. And we have more time to kind of deprogram them from that involvement, to get them away from the influences that have led them astray.”

Worrell urged the Legislature to pass the bill and urged DeSantis to back it, saying she will do whatever is needed to get the bill through the session and onto the governor’s desk.

[READ Worrell’s response to Gov. DeSantis’ request]

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About the Author:

Christie joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021.