(CNN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended Tampa District Attorney-elect Andrew Warren for pledging not to use his office to go after people who seek and provide abortions or doctors who provide gender-affirming care to women. transgender people.
DeSantis also accused Warren of failing to pursue criminals to the full extent of his powers as Hillsborough County’s state’s attorney.
“Taking the position that he has veto powers over state laws is untenable,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Tampa surrounded by law enforcement.
The move by DeSantis, a Republican, to unseat a twice-elected Democrat from Hillsborough voters drew an immediate and stern rebuke from Democratic lawmakers and state officials. Minority Leader Senator Lauren Book said DeSantis was “behaving more like a dictator than the ‘Governor of the United States.'” And Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called Warren’s suspension “a politically motivated attack on a state attorney universally respected and democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”
“Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” Fried said.
A spokeswoman for Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Her office canceled a press conference previously scheduled for 3 p.m.
DeSantis said the decision to suspend Warren came after he directed staff to review whether any Florida state attorneys had been tasked with “determining which laws they like and are going to enforce” after seeing prosecutors from other states refused to press charges for certain crimes. That review led them to Warren, who has become a strong advocate for criminal justice reform and overturning wrongful convictions.
“The governor shouldn’t have had to come to Hillsborough County to clean up our mess,” former Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said during the news conference. “That’s what it really boils down to.”
Under Florida law, a governor can remove “any officer of the county” for wrongful acts, misconduct, dereliction of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony. The Florida Senate has the power to reinstate or remove a suspended official.
DeSantis named Susan Lopez to serve as state’s attorney during Warren’s suspension. He previously appointed Lopez as a circuit judge in Hillsborough County. DeSantis told reporters that he did not speak to Warren prior to the announcement.
Warren was first elected state attorney in 2016, defeating a longtime Republican incumbent in a close race that predicted Florida’s county shift to the left. He was re-elected in 2020, winning a higher percentage of the vote in Hillsborough County than President Joe Biden.
During his first few years in office, Warren kept a relatively low profile while quietly modernizing the office and embracing criminal justice reforms. In 2018, he endorsed the re-election campaign of Republican county sheriff-elect Chad Chronister, often holding news conferences with law enforcement. In turn, Chronister praised Warren in the months leading up to the Democrat’s campaign for a second term.
But Chronister hosted Thursday’s press conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and delivered a scathing critique of Warren while standing next to DeSantis. (Chronister’s wife, Nicole DeBartolo, and her father-in-law, Edward DeBartolo, a former NFL owner who was granted a presidential pardon by Donald Trump, have donated a total of $472,000 to DeSantis’ reelection campaign.)
Warren became increasingly critical of DeSantis during the pandemic. Early in the coronavirus outbreak, he publicly criticized the governor’s decision to allow megachurches to operate in Florida just days after the arrest of a Tampa pastor who defied a mandate not to attend Mass in person. Later that summer, Warren announced that he would not prosecute 67 people arrested at a protest following the death of George Floyd.
But it was Warren’s foray into the country’s political divide over transgender care and abortion that prompted DeSantis’ action on Thursday. Last year, Warren joined dozens of state and local prosecutors in signing a letter drafted by the progressive organization Fair and Just Prosecution denouncing laws that criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care to transgender people. After the US Supreme Court voted to strike down Roe vs. Wade and eliminate constitutional protections for abortion, Warren signed another Justice and Equity letter pledging not to use “the limited resources of the criminal legal system” to persecute those who request, provide or support abortion.
The position on abortion put Warren at odds with a new state law that bans abortions in Florida after 15 weeks. DeSantis, who last year signed a ban on girls and transgender women from participating in school sports as a woman, has also taken steps to ban gender-affirming care for minors, which he called Thursday “literally cutting the private parts of small children.
“Those are really, I think, egregious and, again, it’s beyond just exercising discretion,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis has used his power to remove certain elected officials more than his predecessors. In one of his first actions as governor, DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, who oversaw the police response to the deadly mass shooting at a Parkland high school.