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Florida's DeSantis takes aim at prosecutor after TV crew attack

Ron DeSantis
Posted at 10:25 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-03 01:25:25-05

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Fresh off removing one Democratic prosecutor, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is eyeing another over how she handled cases involving a suspect charged with fatally shooting a TV reporter, a 9-year-old girl and a woman last week.

DeSantis' general counsel sent a letter earlier this week to State Attorney Monique Worrell seeking documents and emails about the prior arrests and prosecution decisions involving 19-year-old Keith Moses, both as juvenile and an adult. Juvenile records are typically kept private in Florida.

The request from the governor's office comes as DeSantis fights against what he calls "woke" prosecutors, bolstering his conservative criminal justice platform ahead of an expected run for president.

DeSantis last year removed State Attorney Andrew Warren, a twice elected Democrat in Tampa, over his signing of pledges that said he would not pursue criminal charges against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments, as well as policies about not bringing charges for certain low-level crimes.

A lawyer for the families of the slain girl and the reporter said DeSantis and Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, who has also scrutinized Worrell over Moses' criminal history, appear to be exploiting the deaths for their political agendas.

"The families believe this all smells and smacks of political opportunism, by both DeSantis and Scott, and it is appalling to them," attorney Mark NeJame said at a news conference Thursday in Orlando.

During the news conference, members of the families hugged each other and cried. They described the victims as, respectively, a compassionate storyteller and a little girl with a big heart who loved gymnastics.

"I'm going to miss her so much! She was the best little girl!" T'yonna Major's mother, Brandi Major, sobbed before leaving the room after being overwhelmed by emotion.

Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons' father, Gary Lyons, said he was "shocked" that neither DeSantis nor Scott "had taken 30 seconds out of their time" to reach out to his family to say their were sorry for their loss. The family has heard from other political leaders, he said.

In the letter to Worrell, whose jurisdiction covers the Orlando area, DeSantis general counsel Ryan Newman said her office failed to hold Moses accountable, "despite his extensive criminal history and gang affiliation."

The letter noted that Moses was arrested during a traffic stop in November 2021 for cannabis possession. According to a police report, a deputy witnessed a gun being thrown out the car window as it was being pulled over. The three occupants had ski masks and past firearm charges, including Moses who was on juvenile felony probation.

The Orange County Sheriff's Office deputy charged Moses with a drug offense and not a firearm offense. The case was dismissed the following month after prosecutors concluded it wasn't suitable to pursue.

"Moses should never have been in a position to commit those senseless crimes of last week," Newman's letter said.

In response, Worrell said the letter from the governor's office was full of misconceptions. There wasn't conclusive evidence that Moses was illegally in possession of marijuana, said Worrell.

"The suggestions and accusations that my office's 'policies' promote crime are empty political statements unsupported by actual facts," Worrell said in a statement.

Moses is facing three first-degree murder charges for last week's fatal shootings of Lyons, Major, and Nathacha Augustin. Also shot were the girl's mother and Spectrum News 13 photographer Jesse Walden.

In his executive order suspending Warren, the Tampa prosecutor, DeSantis cited state law that allows him to remove officials for neglect of duty and incompetence.

Warren has said the pledges amounted to personal political positions and that his office had applied prosecutorial discretion over whether to bring charges in all cases. He has launched a legal battle in federal and state court to get his job back.