ORLANDO, Fla. – This legislative session Florida lawmakers increased the budget for Gov. Ron DeSantis’s election police.
The state says the Office of Election Crimes and Security is to improve election integrity, but the office has been accused of voter intimidation and has been heavily scrutinized since it arrested 20 people last August.
News 6 was first to report on the arrest of Peter Washington.
Washington’s case is one of six that have been dismissed by local judges.
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The arrest for illegally voting turned his life upside down, Washington said.
His wife Shalonda Washington agreed.
“I think one of his biggest fears is probably not necessarily rejection, but like more so probably disappointing me,” Shalonda Washington said.
Washington said his wife has been his rock.
“I gotta be honest. She’s been a great support in this situation,” Peter Washington said.
When law enforcement officers arrested Washington at his home last August, he says it was the pain it caused his wife that hurt the most.
“It was my first time to ever see her cry like that and it hurt me so bad,” Peter Washington said.
“It was the unknown. I had never heard of anyone being arrested for voter fraud,” Shalonda Washington said.
Since his arrest, Orange County Judge Jennifer Harris dismissed the charges against Washington, but the state is now appealing.
The damage to their life was already done.
“I lost my job after the arrest,” Peter Washington said.
Washington was fired from his job supervising irrigation projects.
He had also started his own business doing landscaping and irrigation work, but after the arrest hit the news, he says he lost clients who started having concerns.
“I’ve been on the property all this time. And talk to the same people and until they see me on TV, they never had a problem,” Washington said.
The problem was with Washington’s background.
Twenty-seven years ago, Washington pleaded no contest to attempted sexual battery and was given probation, but he kept violating probation by not registering his address properly, according to the probable cause affidavit and state records.
Because of the violation, in 2001 he served nearly 10 years in prison.
Since then, he says he has worked to be a model citizen by starting his business, a family, and being a deacon in his church. He said the arrest last August brought it all back to the surface.
“When people see him, they assume that he is this predator or he is that label. And that’s not who he is,” Shalonda Washington said.
Peter Washington and the 19 others arrested last August had all been convicted of murder or a felony sex crime, which disqualified them to vote, but they thought their rights had been restored by Amendment Four.
Election officials also allowed them all to register to vote and sent them voter information cards in the mail.
Washington and his wife say they are still picking up the pieces and remaining prayerful.
“I just always tell him that I want him to be the best version of himself, like to reach his full potential and be the man that God called him to be,” Shalonda Washington said.
“All I’m asking for is a chance to live, for us to live, ‘cause even though it affected me, it affected her. Just let us live,” Peter Washington said.
What you’ve just seen is only part of a months-long investigation into the arrests.
News 6 produced a new three-part series called “I voted and got arrested,” about Washington’s case.
It breaks down the arrest.
It also shows how Peter and Shalonda Washington met.
And what’s next in the case.
It is now on Youtube, and News 6+, as well as Clickorlando.com.
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