TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren was suspended, effective immediately, by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday morning. Citing Warren’s positions on prosecuting residents for seeking abortions or gender-affirming care for minors, DeSantis removed Warren from office, for now temporarily.

While Warren has not been terminated, DeSantis said his use of what’s called prosecutorial discretion and signing of two letters pledging not to pursue prosecutions in the 13th Judicial Circuit, provoked the governor to exercise his executive power and bar him from his office and suspend his wages.

“Our government is a government of laws, not a government of men, and what that means is that we govern ourselves based on a Constitutional system, and based on the rule of law,” DeSantis said. “What we’ve seen over the past few years is individual prosecutors take it upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce, and which laws they don’t like and don’t enforce.”

DeSantis said this has had “catastrophic” results in places like Los Angeles, Cali. and San Francisco, saying the policies have been “devastating to the rule of law,” in addition to hurting communities and undermining public safety. He said as he “saw it happening” across the United States, he asked his staff to review Florida prosecutors to see where that may be happening in the Sunshine State. Officials spoke with prosecutors and law enforcement around Florida during the review process.

“It all came back to this area in the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County,” DeSantis said. “The response we got was a lot of frustration, on the part of law enforcement for criminals being let go and crimes not being prosecuted.”

The governor cited letters that Warren signed off on, which DeSantis said pledged not to “enforce any prohibitions on sex changes for minors.” The governor said Warren’s position was “that it doesn’t matter what the legislature does in the state of Florida, he’s going to exercise a veto over that,” and having a policy of “presumptive nonenforcement”, which DeSantis said was not consistent with the job a prosecutor is required to do. In June, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade through the Dobbs decision, DeSantis said Warren had pledged not to enforce any abortion-related laws “protecting the right to life” in Florida.

As a result, DeSantis chose to suspend Warren, the state attorney and prosecutor, for “putting himself publicly above the law.” The governor said Warren was suspended, with a final goal of removal or termination from office.

In the hours since, Warren has issued a statement responding to the suspension.

Today’s political stunt is an illegal overreach that continues a dangerous pattern by Ron DeSantis of using his office to further his own political ambition. It spits in the face of the voters of Hillsborough County who have twice elected me to serve them, not Ron DeSantis.

In our community, crime is low, our Constitutional rights—including the right to privacy—are being upheld, and the people have the right to elect their own leaders—not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and again he feels accountable to no one.

Just because the governor violates your rights, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Statement from suspended SAO13 Andrew Warren

Reactions to the decision came from across the political and criminal justice aisles, with sheriffs from the area praising the choice and some politicians and candidates attacking DeSantis for it.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was among supporters of the move, and was present for the announcement in Tampa. Chronister thanked the governor, praising his efforts on behalf of Florida.

“We are resolved to apprehend the criminals who prey upon law-abiding citizens in our community, it’s our duty and we trust that our criminal justice system, the state attorney, and the public defender will adjudicate the circumstances and hold those who are guilty accountable,” Chronister said.

He said Warren’s suspension “is not political to me, it’s about law and order” and making sure everyone’s loved ones are safe.

“Over the last several years, state attorney Warren has acted as an adjudicator of all, as if some type of supreme authority,” Chronister said. He said Warren had been “reducing charges, dropping cases, and single-handedly determining which crimes would be legal or illegal in our county.”

Chronister detailed a case in September 2021, where a suspect had shot someone, then opened fire on a residence where the victim “sought refuge and protection.” Nearby, Chronister said another family waited in a vehicle. The suspect was identified and arrested, then released from jail. When the suspect was again arrested for a burglary charge, Chronister said Warren had declined to press charges.

“My point is, like too many cases, why was this violent offender not held responsible for the original shooting?” Chronister asked. “The state attorney’s office explanation to our detective is that the depositions would have been too lengthy and complicated.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd also spoke in support of the suspension.

“I can tell you, I’ve done this job my entire adult life. I remember, governor, when the felons owned Florida. It was in the 70s and 80s. I remember that well. I was one of the cops on the street when we couldn’t keep the felons locked up, we couldn’t keep the criminals locked up,” Judd said. “And they preyed on the community.”

He said they didn’t prey on residents in gated communities, but on the “real working people.” Then, laws were changed so they could hold criminals accountable, Judd said.

“We’ve got a dumpster fire going on in this nation,” Judd said sheriffs tell him. “And you know who’s getting burned in this dumpster fire? The working people.” Judd said it was areas like New Orleans, La., Los Angeles, Cali., and Chicago, Ill. among others that had prosecutors who had signed the same pledges as Warren. Judd said those areas had the highest murder rates in the country, and that criminals weren’t being held accountable.

However, while law enforcement officers gathered in Hillsborough with the governor were supportive of the suspension, not all Floridians agree. There is a reported plan to hold a rally in Tampa Thursday night in support of Warren. Multiple Democratic politicians, including both Democratic candidates for Florida governor, have already weighed in on the suspension, accusing DeSantis of overstepping his constitutional powers.

U.S. Rep. and governor candidate Charlie Crist said DeSantis was “a wannabe dictator” putting politics before the needs of average Florida residents. He noted in his statement on the suspension that Warren had been elected by Florida voters twice “because of his commitment to safety and justice for all people,” while DeSantis’ latest action against Warren was “a flagrant abuse of power.” Warren took office in 2016 and was reelected in 2020.

Crist wasn’t alone in his comments. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the decision was “a politically motivated attack on a universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion,” and called DeSantis a “pathetic bully” who “wants to be a dictator, not a governor of Florida.”

Leaders from the Fair and Just Prosecution organization, who drafted the two letters Warren had signed off on, weighed in as well for WFLA.com in response to the suspension.

Governor DeSantis’ suspension of State Attorney Andrew Warren is an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion on the separation of powers and the will of the voters. Since our country’s founding, the independence of the prosecutor – and the autonomy to decide whom and what to charge with inherently limited resources – has been a hallmark of the American criminal legal system. 

Governors don’t hand-pick elected prosecutors, the voters do. With this outrageous overreach, Gov. DeSantis is sending a clear message that the will of the people of Hillsborough County matters less than his own political agenda.

Prosecutors have a duty to pursue the interests of justice and use their limited resources to investigate and prosecute those crimes that cause the greatest harm to communities. No prosecutor can charge or pursue every violation of the law, and for decades, prosecutors have been making these choices. Only now, when some are seeking to be smarter and focus on the most serious crimes, do we see some politicians launching  fear-based attacks on prosecutorial discretion.

Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Founder and Executive Director, said in part

FJP’s statement went further, saying DeSantis’ actions had led to delays in Warren carrying out his duties, referencing a now-canceled event related to the SAO’s Conviction Review Unit and the exoneration of a previously incarcerated alleged murderer. The cold case at the center of that exoneration was expected to have a briefing on new developments Thursday afternoon, but the office has said it was canceled.

“Using prosecutorial discretion and not pursuing unjust laws is not neglect of duty but a fierce commitment to justice. We are proud to stand with SA Warren against the governor’s blatant power grab,” Krinsky said, closing out the statement to WFLA.com.