Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has taken another step in his war on liberal prosecutors, moving against an Orlando-area prosecutor after the shooting deaths on Feb. 22 of three people, including a 9-year-old girl.
A 19-year-old man on juvenile felony probation pleaded not guilty on Feb. 24 to an initial count of first-degree murder.Keith Moses was subsequently charged on Feb. 28 with two more counts of first-degree murder.
DeSantis’s counsel Ryan Newman requested that Monique Worrell, state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit covering Orange and Osceola counties, turn over records on Moses.
Moses had been arrested in November 2021 for possession of a small amount of marijuana and released. Newman argued that it was a probation violation, that he and two co-defendants had long criminal records, and that their arrests might have sustained more severe charges.
“The failure of your office to hold this individual accountable for his actions—despite his extensive criminal history and gang affiliation—may have permitted this dangerous individual to remain on the street.
“Clearly, Mr. Moses should never have been in a position to commit those senseless crimes of last week,” Newman wrote to Worrell in a letter dated Feb. 28.
Newman wrote that Moses’s most recent arrest had been on Nov. 21, 2021, for possession of fewer than 20 grams of cannabis.
“The arrest affidavit states, ‘It should be noted that all three subjects have multiple firearms possession charges, to include attempted first-degree murder and armed robbery with a firearm and all had ski mask style masks on them in the vehicle.’
“Further, our records indicate that Mr. Moses was on Juvenile Felony Probation at the time of this arrest, having previously been arrested for offenses such as battery, burglary, larceny, robbery with a firearm, possession of a firearm, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon without intent to kill, and multiple instances of resisting an officer, among other serious arrests.”
Newman cites the governor’s authority under the Florida Constitution to require information in writing, “from all executive or administrative state, county or municipal officers upon any subject relating to the duties of their respective offices.”
He also demands “information on the number and circumstances of individuals who—1) were arrested for committing a felony or had violated the terms of their probation by being arrested for a crime, 2) had a prior criminal history, and 3) were not prosecuted by your office.”
Worrell has until Mar. 14 to comply.
Orange County deputies said that around 11 a.m. on Feb. 22, deputies responded to reports of a shooting in Pine Hills.
Nathacha Augustin, 38, was found shot and died on the scene. Police reported later that the woman was riding in a car where Moses had been offered a ride.
A Spectrum News 13 reporter working the incident, Dylan Lyons, 24, was shot after Moses allegedly returned to the scene, and died later at the hospital, while a fellow news crew member, Jesse Walden, was seriously wounded.
Police said T’yonna Major, 9, was shot in her nearby home along with her mother shortly after that and died in the hospital while her mother was seriously wounded.
The governor’s move follows his suspension of Hillsborough County’s State Attorney Andrew Warren on Aug. 4, 2022.
DeSantis’s order said Warren publicly stated he wouldn’t enforce abortion laws.
Warren and Worrell were among 74 prosecutors nationally who signed a June 2021 statement condemning the criminalization of transgender people and gender-affirming health care were attached as Exhibit A to DeSantis’s order.
Two of the other prosecutors included Chesa Boudin in San Francisco, who was ejected from office in a recall election by voters on Jun. 7, 2022, and George Gascon, who survived a recall attempt in August 2022 when a court rejected nearly 200,000 of almost 716,000 signatures gathered to recall him.
Both were supported in their elections by progressive financier George Soros.
Additionally, DeSantis’s suspension order cited Warren for declining to prosecute certain misdemeanor offenses.
A federal judge dismissed Warren’s lawsuit for reinstatement on Jan. 20, 2023, finding it was not a federal matter while widely criticizing the governor’s action in the opinion.
Worrell defended herself in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel.
Moses, in 2021, was arrested with 4.5 grams of marijuana in his possession, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement does not test amounts of the drug below 20 grams, the minimum felony amount, she said.
Families Reject Playing Politics
“Even if I was able to proceed that case, there is no sentence in the entire state of Florida that would have required Mr. Moses to be incarcerated in prison,” she said.
“You have to hold people accountable,” DeSantis said in a press conference on Feb. 27.
“I know the state attorney in Orlando thinks that you don’t prosecute people and that’s the way that somehow you have better communities. That does not work.”
Florida Sen. Rick Scott, himself a former Florida governor, supported DeSantis’s move.
“Every prosecutor that chose to give this young criminal a pass should be fired today,” Scott said in a statement, “and state attorney Worrell must immediately account for how her office failed to protect the community from a violent criminal and outline what she’s changing to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
However, a lawyer for the families of two of the three victims issued a statement on their behalf accusing DeSantis and Scott of playing politics with the tragedy, defending Worrell’s actions on Moses’s prior case, and calling on the legislature to pass stricter gun laws.
“Both families are strong and resolute in their conviction not to allow their children to die in vain or for them to be used as political pawns by DeSantis and Scott when the true issue of sane and responsible gun laws is being deflected and avoided by these gun-loving politicians,” attorney Mark NeJame said.
He represents the families of Lyons and Major.