ORLANDO, Fla. – In 2019, State Representative Geraldine F. Thompson (D – Windermere) and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried met in Fried’s offices with administrators of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to discuss exoneration of the Groveland Four—four young African American men who in 1949 were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Groveland, Florida. After being represented by Thurgood Marshall, the United States Supreme Court granted a new trial for the Groveland Four in 1951. Though the Florida Cabinet, at the urging of Commissioner Fried, Representative Thompson and others, granted a pardon to the Groveland Four on January 11, 2019, Representative Thompson understood that a pardon is something that is granted to guilty individuals and she continued to push for exoneration to clear the names and have the innocence of the Groveland Four acknowledged.
Directors of FDLE indicated during the January 2019 meeting that they would review all information regarding the Groveland Four and issue an opinion. Nothing from FDLE has been forthcoming regarding the Groveland Four in 2021, though members of the families of the men have pressed for resolution. Representative Thompson’s contacts with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to urge exoneration of the Groveland Four have been ignored and instead FDLE filed a complaint against Representative Thompson with the Florida Commission on Ethics regarding an appropriations’ request that then Senator Thompson made for the Sankofa Project in 2016. The complaint from FDLE to the Florida Commission on Ethics was filed on April 28, 2021, outside of the five-year statute of limitations under which the Ethics Commission is bound.
Representative Thompson said, “This is reprisal from Governor DeSantis and his appointees including the Florida Secretary of State, Laurel Lee, who referred the Sankofa issue, despite no findings of improprieties, to the U. S. Attorney of the Middle District where she once worked. She also once worked for U. S. District Judge James Moody, the father of State Attorney General, Ashley Moody. Lee was appointed as judge by former Governor Rick Scott and as Secretary of State by Ron DeSantis and is married to former Florida Senator Tom Lee. The referrals from Laurel Lee and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement follow a lawsuit which Thompson filed in 2020 with the Florida Supreme Court. Representative Thompson won that lawsuit through a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court when the Court ruled against DeSantis and affirmed Thompson’s contention that the Governor acted unlawfully to appoint a constitutionally unqualified political crony to the Florida Supreme Court. “There was no finding of criminal wrongdoing regarding Sankofa after numerous examinations, so this is a reach and another approach to attack me in a different arena even though it is outside of the five-year statute of limitations which applies to complaints with the Florida Commission on Ethics. This is straight out of the Trump play book to use governmental agencies to bully and silence detractors,” said Representative Thompson.