ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Monique Worrell held a news conference Wednesday morning outside of the Orange County Courthouse to address Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement of her suspension as Orange-Osceola State Attorney hours prior, saying it would not dissuade her from seeking re-election.
“Elected officials can be removed simply for political purposes and by a whim of the governor, and no matter how you feel about me, you should not be OK with that,” Worrell said. “...I am proud to tell you that this will not stop me from running for re-election.”
Worrell called her suspension “a political hit job,” claiming law enforcement agencies rallied behind the governor’s interest in removing her due in part to her position on accountability in public safety.
“When I ran, I promised law enforcement accountability, and since I have become state attorney, we prosecuted Jonathan Mills, a serial terrorist on the Parramore community, and he went to jail under my administration, and the Florida (Fraternal) Order of Police was pissed about it. They came to court to support him. There is another officer whose case will undoubtedly be dropped now (...) because he shot an unarmed man. I promised police accountability and on that I delivered and that is the reason that law enforcement galvanized behind the governor’s un-democratic attack and removal of me from office,” Worrell said. “...Listen, I’m not speaking out against law enforcement as a whole, but I am telling you that as in any profession, there are bad actors. The difference with law enforcement is that they have covered it up systemically, they have covered it up and I have uncovered just the tip of the iceberg and we have taken action against that.”
Worrell has spent months defending her record in the wake of high-profile crimes in her jurisdiction, including the February shooting deaths of three people in Pine Hills — 38-year-old Nathacha Augustin, 9-year-old T’yonna Major and 24-year-old Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons — and now the shooting of two Orlando police officers in downtown, what began a manhunt late Friday that ended with a fatal shootout in a hotel Saturday morning.
DeSantis, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and others at the state’s Capitol Building earlier Wednesday claimed such crimes could have been prevented under different leadership, adding they now would be under Ninth Circuit Judge Andrew Bain, who the governor said would replace Worrell.
“I am your duly-elected state attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that. This is an outrage,” Worrell said Wednesday. “...Elected officials are being taken out of office solely for political purposes, and that should never be a thing. There used to be a very high standard for the removal of elected officials. 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.”
Worrell was elected in 2020 to replace Aramis Ayala, who opted to not seek reelection, taking 66% of the vote.
By late March, Worrell had announced her intention to run for re-election, at the time already under investigation by the state and the target of public criticism from sheriffs John Mina of Orange County and Marcos Lopez of Osceola County. On the defense at a news conference that month — held to announce there wasn’t enough evidence to convict a teen who was arrested in a fatal shooting outside of Jones High School in November 2022 — Worrell challenged law enforcement to “build better cases” and operate above community pressure.
“Under my administration, this office will not operate on a ‘throw it against the wall to see what sticks’ mentality. We respect the rule of law. We understand what it takes to move a case from probable cause to reasonable doubt and we will not ignore the facts where they are lacking,” Worrell said in March.
DeSantis on Wednesday referenced several criminal cases to bolster his basis for Worrell’s suspension, including that of Larry Lorenzo and Daton Viel, the latter of whom died Saturday in a shootout with SWAT officers who had swarmed an Orlando hotel looking for him after he shot two police officers the night prior.
In October 2022, a 17-year-old Lorenzo allegedly shot and killed a 16-year-old girl who he had gotten pregnant and had been reported missing months before she was found dead outside a home on Broken Pine Circle. DeSantis claimed Lorenzo had been arrested months before the shooting in a case where he would have faced several firearms charges, yet was released.
“In November (sic) of 2022, 17-year-old Lorenzo Larry shot and killed his pregnant girlfriend De’Shayla Ferguson. He had previously been arrested in May of 2022 on several charges, including carrying a concealed firearm, possession of a firearm on school property and criminal possession of a firearm by a minor, but he was released after all these arrests. Worrell’s office did not act on any of these charges until after he killed his girlfriend and their unborn child,” DeSantis said.
For Viel, News 6 has since examined what law enforcement referenced at the announcement of his death as his “extensive criminal history.”
Viel had been arrested in March, accused of raping a 14-year-old girl in Orlando who he had offered a ride to school late last year, yet was released from jail April 14 after posting a $125,250 bond, records show. He was already on probation at the time of the sexual battery arrest, what court records indicate was related to trespassing at an Orange County construction site in 2019, as well as to charges of aggravated assault, arson and battery that occurred in Georgia in 2020.
The Florida Department of Corrections put Viel on electronic monitoring following the sexual battery arrest, but he cut off his ankle monitor June 14 and moved out of his aunt’s Apopka home without notifying his parole officer, at which point an Orange County circuit court judge issued an arrest warrant for him, records show.
Viel was stopped most recently on June 30 by police at the University of Central Florida, yet he managed to escape in his car — a red Ford Fusion — as the officers attempted to arrest him on the Orange County warrant.
July 10, a red Ford Fusion that authorities now believe belonged to Viel was caught on camera leaving the scene of a murder in Miami. Come Friday night, more than three weeks after the Miami homicide, two publicly unidentified Orlando police officers spotted the wanted vehicle near Washington Street and Garland Avenue in downtown Orlando. Viel shot and critically wounded the two police officers before carjacking someone else and driving away, investigators said.
“Just this past weekend — we’re always at the center of another major controversy — Daton Viel was arrested in March of 2023 for sexual battery on a minor as well as lewd and lascivious molestation. The arrest was made while he was on probation for another offense. That probation began in February of 2022. He was still let out on bond and then tragically shot two Orlando police officers,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis’ office had demanded a slew of records from the Orange-Osceola state attorney as their war of words ramped up around this time. Her reply addressed both her office’s compliance to the state’s request and “a number of misconceptions” she said was contained therein.
“The suggestions and accusations that my office’s ‘policies’ promote crime are empty political statements unsupported by actual facts. During my administration, the police arrested Mr. Moses on a single case – a misdemeanor possession of cannabis charge. Without evidence that conclusively proves Mr. Moses was in possession of illegal marijuana, it is simply not possible to prove a crime occurred. Therefore, my office did not pursue charges,” Worrell said in the statement.
The families of the Pine Hills victims had later appeared in news conferences with their lawyers, during which they lashed out against DeSantis and Sen. Rick Scott with accusations the state leaders were politicizing the tragedy and opportunistically painting Worrell with a false narrative.
On Bain, Worrell said Wednesday that she knew him and had no criticisms of him.
“I know Andrew Bain personally, I think he’s a great guy. I’m not going to, you know, take any hits against him. This is the work of the governor and the person who we should all be concerned about is the governor.”
In a Zoom meeting held later Wednesday, Worrell said in part that she is looking for work now that she is out of a job.
Watch Worrell speak in the media player below:
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