The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion DeSantis sacked me for doing my job as a prosecutor. Who’s next?

Andrew Warren in Tampa on Aug. 7. (Thomas Simonetti for The Washington Post)

Andrew Warren was elected state attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, which covers the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County, in 2016 and 2020.

For nearly four years, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pursued an approach to governing that has violated the freedoms of people in our state, inventing whatever enemies would help him in his ambition to be the next Donald Trump.

Without warning, last week, he added me to his list.

An armed sheriff’s deputy and a governor’s aide showed up on Thursday morning at the State Attorney’s Office in Tampa, where I was serving as the elected prosecutor for Hillsborough County. They handed me an executive order signed by DeSantis that immediately suspended me from office. Before I could read it, they escorted me out.

Radley Balko: Firing a successful prosecutor is DeSantis’s latest political stunt

This is a blatant abuse of power. I don’t work for DeSantis. I was elected by voters — twice — and I have spent my entire career locking up violent criminals and fraudsters. Without any misdoing on my part or any advance notice, I was forced out of my office, removed from my elected position, and replaced with a DeSantis ally. If this can happen to me, what can DeSantis do to other Floridians?

Already, the governor has summarily stripped away constitutional rights for millions of people in our state: Black Floridians, who will find it harder to vote because of a DeSantis law that creates unnecessary restrictions targeting election fraud that does not exist. Women, who stand to lose their right to make their own reproductive health choices because of a DeSantis law, which a judge has ruled unconstitutional under state law, severely limiting access to abortion without even exceptions for rape and incest. The LGBTQ community, targeted by the DeSantis “don’t say gay’’ law that prevents educators from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students.

The DeSantis enemies list goes on and on. Teachers, accused of putting “incredibly disturbing” books on their shelves. College faculty, who are directed by a DeSantis law to complete a survey about their political beliefs. Even Disney World, which lost its special taxing district in central Florida after it criticized the “don’t say gay’’ law.

So I stand in good company, and the stakes are high. We have seen this sustained attack against our freedoms around the country — and we have to fight back.

That is what I will be doing. I grew up in Gainesville, Fla., left for college and eventually moved to Tampa to raise my family, pursue my career and build a productive life serving my community. Hillsborough County voters elected me as their state attorney in 2016 over a longtime incumbent, and reelected me in 2020. We plan to fight this suspension in the courts, and if successful, I intend to resume the important work I was elected to do: Ensure my community is safe by embracing effective criminal justice policies.

In removing me from office, DeSantis offered no examples of specific actions taken by me or my office that broke or ignored the law. On the contrary, I have been delivering on the promises I made to voters by fighting violent crime, reducing recidivism and investing in public safety through rehabilitation and prevention. Our county’s crime rate is the lowest in the region.

The governor cites statements I signed with other prosecutors from around the country regarding gender-affirming care and restrictions on abortion rights, two of his political wedge issues. These are value statements, where I expressed my opposition to laws that I believe violate constitutional rights. Florida’s current 15-week abortion ban was found to violate the Florida Constitution by the first court to review it. And Florida has no criminal law at all regarding medical treatments of gender-affirming care. His allegations of “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” are based not on what I have done but on what he predicts I will do.

Not one single case dealing with either of those issues has ever reached my desk. So DeSantis’s complaints with how I’m doing my job ring hollow.

By attacking me, DeSantis is overruling the will of the voters who have twice elected me. He is selectively ignoring the discretion prosecutors have — and are ethically required to exercise — in setting priorities and deciding who to prosecute for which crimes. And he is violating my right of free speech to call attention to public policies that take away our freedoms.

Today, in Florida, first businesses, then teachers, and now public servants are being punished if they disagree with or speak out against DeSantis. Our governor’s overreach should alarm anyone who believes in a fair and free democracy, regardless of your political persuasion. And I fear such actions will become part of the political playbook in states around the country if we allow them to stand.

For now, this governor is working to fire me — an independently elected official — for voicing my opinion on issues directly impacting my job. To a lot of us, DeSantis’s self-proclaimed “free state of Florida” doesn’t feel very free.