OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell spoke about drug trafficking Monday after Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez called out the state for its lack of prosecution of these cases last week.
“I want to start by saying facts matter,” Worrell said. “When I go to court, I have to go with facts. When my assistant state attorneys go to court, they have to go with facts. They can’t go with supposition. They can’t go with what people feel.”
Worrell went on to speak about the 68 drug trafficking cases she said were presented to her office in 2022 by the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, in response to Lopez claiming at a news briefing on Thursday that none of the cases were prosecuted.
“That’s a really bold statement to make, particularly for it not to be true,” she said. “In 2022, 13 drug trafficking cases were resolved in a minimum mandatory or higher sentence.”
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Worrell added the sheriff was misleading in his wording during last week’s news conference, saying he was claiming none of the people arrested within that year were prosecuted knowing “it is very unlikely for a drug trafficking case to be resolved in the same year in which the arrest is made.”
Worrell further said, of the 68 cases presented to her office in 2022, 36 are pending, 12 were downgraded due to testing results, one pleaded to a lesser offense, 12 were dropped due to evidentiary issues, two were dropped due to no controlled substances and five were prosecuted by other agencies.
This comes after Lopez provided an update Thursday on the number of drug overdoses and deaths within the community in 2022. The sheriff said the medical examiner’s office reported about 142 overdose deaths within the county in 2022.
During the news briefing, he said the state dropped or lowered various charges for drug trafficking crimes in the county. When asked if he spoke to Worrell about this, Lopez responded he has not, citing that out of the 73 drug trafficking cases in the county this year, zero out of the 29 that went through prosecution have received the minimum mandatory sentencing.
“This is what’s poisoning us and killing our communities,” Lopez said at the news briefing. “Every community has different issues. These are the issues in Osceola County.”
Worrell agreed that these drugs, namely fentanyl, are deadly and negatively impacting the community, but took issue with the way Lopez tried to pass the blame.
“We have to do everything we can to hold those individuals accountable or involved in drug trafficking organizations that are responsible for bringing this drug into our community. I don’t believe that the way to do that is by pointing fingers at each other saying, ‘Who isn’t doing what they should be doing?’” Worrell said.
This also comes amid an ongoing public feud between Worrell and local law enforcement agencies, during which critics of the state attorney have questioned her prosecution history. She has since retaliated by imploring authorities to “build better cases” with more evidence.
On Monday, she added choosing politics over public safety only causes the community to suffer and in turn wants to continue to foster a communicative relationship between the state and local law enforcement agencies.
“I am proud to say that my office has great relationships with many of our local agencies and anytime there is an issue or a question with regards to proof that’s needed to bring a case to a place that it can be proven that they pick up the phone and they call my chief of narcotics,” Worrell said. “I’m saddened to say that the first time that I ever heard about concerns from the sheriff’s office was from you, from the news.”
The state attorney added she was “absolutely open” to sitting at a joint table with law enforcement to carry on these conversations.
Worrell’s news briefing on drug trafficking came just hours after she and Orange County Sheriff John Mina discussed youth violence and needed solutions at a luncheon put on by Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.
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