Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor of Florida, suspended the elected state prosecutor of Tampa on Thursday, for pledging not to enforce a new 15-week abortion ban and for supporting gender transition treatments for minors.
The Republican governor announced the suspension of the Hillsborough county state attorney, Andrew Warren, at a news conference in the county’s sheriff’s office, where DeSantis and law enforcement officers criticized Warren.
“When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty and you are displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform those duties,” DeSantis said, to cheers.
Warren, a Democrat, was elected in 2016 and in 2020. His office did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
The suspension comes as DeSantis runs for re-election and builds his national profile as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate through near constant criticism of liberal policies on abortion, policing and other culture war issues.
Asked whether he was overriding the will of the voters, DeSantis said Warren’s conduct had fallen “below the standard of the Florida constitution”.
“I don’t think the people of Hillsborough county want to have an agenda that is basically woke, where you’re deciding that your view of social justice means certain laws shouldn’t be enforced,” the governor said.
Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and leader-designate of the Florida house Democratic caucus, said Warren had been using his prosecutorial discretion appropriately.
“I’m not going to mince words: this is a shocking political attack on an elected official serving the people of Hillsborough county,” she said. “Andrew Warren is being removed because he assured our community that he will not be a foot soldier in Ron DeSantis’ extremist agenda.”
In an executive order, DeSantis focused heavily on Warren’s signing of statements where prosecutors across the US said they won’t use their offices to pursue criminal cases against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments.
Florida has not enacted laws criminalizing gender transition treatments for minors but “these statements prove that Warren thinks he has the authority to defy the Florida legislature and nullify in his jurisdiction criminal laws with which he disagrees”, the executive order reads.
The new Florida abortion restriction became effective on 1 July. It prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow exemptions in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking.
Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose licenses and face fines of $10,000 for each violation.
The executive order also accuses Warren of having a “flawed and lawless understanding of his duties as a state attorney” in his “presumptive non-enforcement for certain criminal violations, including trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, and prostitution”.
“The governor’s suspension of State Attorney Warren is not political to me,” said the Hillsborough county sheriff, Chad Chronister. “It’s about law and order. It’s about ensuring our loved ones are safe. It’s about the victims and their voices.”
He said Warren had been acting as a kind of “supreme authority by reducing charges, dropping cases and single-handedly determining what crimes will be legal or illegal in our county”.
DeSantis appointed a judge, Susan Lopez, to serve in Warren’s place during his suspension.
“I have the utmost respect for our state laws and I understand the important role that the state attorney plays in ensuring the safety of our community and the enforcement of our laws,” Lopez said.