Crimes and Courts
Statement from Andrew Warren Following Ruling
TAMPA, FL (January 20, 2023) – Andrew Warren gave the statement below to reporters following today’s ruling where a federal judge said Governor Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Warren “violated the Florida Constitution” and was “a violation of the First Amendment.”
The trial was a search for the truth, and over the past five months the truth has come out. The truth is that Gov. DeSantis abused his power and suspended me not in the pursuit of justice but in the pursuit of politics. The truth is that this suspension was never about the job that I did. As the judge wrote, quote, “The actual facts, whether Mr. Warren actually had any blanket non-prosecution policies, did not matter.’’
The suspension was always a political stunt, a cheap trick to add one more misleading line to the governor’s stump speech. The truth is, for the past six years I’ve been a pragmatic, forward-looking state attorney, both tough and smart on crime, representing my own vision of criminal justice and the purple county that I so proudly serve. But DeSantis and his enablers didn’t care about the truth. They didn’t care about our office’s success. They didn’t care about the safety of our community, and they didn’t care about the will of the voters. They cared about scoring political points through a political stunt. Period.
From the day I was suspended, I’ve said that the suspension was illegal. And although a judge said he couldn’t put me back into the office to which I was twice elected, a federal judge confirmed that the suspension was illegal. The judge concluded that the governor violated federal law and state law. He violated my First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution by suspending me for speaking out on issues of public importance. He violated my First Amendment rights by suspending me because I am a Democrat. He violated the Florida Constitution by suspending me not because I had done anything wrong but because my vision as state attorney doesn’t fit with his political agenda. As the judge wrote, and I quote, “The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren. The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. This factual issue is not close.’’
From the beginning, I have said that this case was bigger than just me. The idea that a governor can break federal and state law to suspend an elected official should send shivers down the spine of anyone who cares about free speech, the integrity of our elections or the rule of law, three core principles on which our democracy is built. When the governor announced the suspension, he stood up and proclaimed that our government is a government of laws, not a government of men. I couldn’t agree more. The judge wrote, quote, “If the facts matter. the governor can simply rescind the suspension.’’
Let’s see if the governor actually believes in the rule of law. Let’s see if the governor actually is a man of his word. Let’s see what kind of man the governor actually is. The governor is supposed to represent all Floridians. And if he wants to represent all Americans, then this is a golden opportunity for him to show our country what kind of man he truly is. This is not over. Thank you.
Central Florida News
Orange County Sheriff’s Office: Deputy Arrested, Fired for Soliciting a Minor via Computer
ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN) – The Orange County Sheriff’s Office reports that Deputy Charles Cruz was arrested by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office on charges of soliciting a minor via computer on Friday. He has been relieved of all law enforcement duties without pay.
On February 19, while working as a patrol deputy, Cruz responded to a call for service at the home of a minor who was already working with the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit because she had been a victim of Sexual Cyberharassment. The call for service was related to a report of someone throwing an object through a window at the victim’s home, possibly the suspect in the Cyberharassment case.
In the course of his criminal mischief investigation, Cruz made inappropriate contact with the minor victim. That contact, via text message, became more inappropriate as he tried to gauge the minor’s interest in meeting him in person. The inappropriate contact was discovered on February 23 by the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit, which was examining the victim’s phone in connection to the Sexual Cyberharassment case.
On the evening of February 23, a detective in the OCSO Sex Crimes Unit assumed the identity of the minor, and chatted with Cruz via text. In the course of the conversation and while on duty, Cruz made sexually explicit comments to the person he believed was the minor. He was immediately located, relieved of duty, arrested and transported to the Orange County Jail.
Cruz was hired in August 2021 and worked in the uniform patrol division. Once the criminal proceedings are complete, an OCSO administrative investigation will be conducted.
“These are very serious criminal allegations, and there is no place in the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for anyone that would abuse their power to victimize a minor. To make matters worse, this deputy preyed on a young woman who was already a victim of sexual cyberharassment,” said Sheriff John Mina. “As law enforcement officers, we are held to the highest standards of conduct whether on duty or off duty. He will never patrol the streets of Orange County again.”
Crimes and Courts
Florida National News President Statement on the Fatal Shooting of Spectrum News 13 Reporter
ORLANDO, Fla. (February 22, 2023) – After reports of a Spectrum News 13 journalist being fatally shot Wednesday along with a nine-year-old and a 20-year-old woman in Pine Hills, Florida National News President & CEO J. Willie David III released the following statement:
“Our whole Florida National News team sends condolences to our colleagues at Spectrum News 13 as well as the affected families of the victims in the wake of Wednesday’s senseless shootings. We can no longer afford to have dangerous suspects erode the value of human life with gun violence. We in the media are calling on state and federal lawmakers to take immediate action to end needless tragedies like this. What will it take?
“We tried to create accountability with school students, not enough was done. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords got shot in the head—a federal lawmaker. Still not enough. Then five cops were gunned down in Texas. Still not enough. Dylann Roof shot up a church. Still not enough. PULSE Nightclub got shot up and Orlando lost 49 souls. Still not enough. Vulnerable children in Uvalde, Texas and Sandy Hook, New Jersey were killed. Still not enough. Now this gun violence has reached our doorstep. Our job is to cover stories, now we’re a part of this chaos.
“Journalism is pivotal to our democracy, and we honor Spectrum News 13’s hard work to keep the community informed. We work shoulder to shoulder with these great people.
“We wish the child’s mother and the Spectrum News 13 photographer a full and speedy recovery.”
Crimes and Courts
White supremacist gets life in prison for Buffalo massacre
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A white supremacist who killed 10 Black people at a Buffalo supermarket was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday after relatives of his victims confronted him with the pain and rage caused by his racist attack.
Anger briefly turned physical at Payton Gendron’s sentencing when a man in the audience rushed at him. The man was quickly restrained; prosecutors later said he wouldn’t be charged. The proceeding resumed after about 10 minutes, with more emotional outpouring from people who lost loved ones or were themselves wounded in the attack.
Gendron, whose hatred was fueled by racist conspiracy theories he encountered online, cried during some of the testimony and apologized to victims and their families in a brief statement.
Some angrily condemned him; others quoted from the Bible or said they were praying for him. Several pointed out that he deliberately attacked a Black community far from his nearly all-white hometown.
“You’ve been brainwashed,” Wayne Jones Sr., the only child of victim Celestine Chaney, said as sobs rose from the audience. “You don’t even know Black people that much to hate them. You learned this on the internet, and it was a big mistake.”
“I hope you find it in your heart to apologize to these people, man. You did wrong for no reason,” Jones said.
Gendron pleaded guilty in November to crimes including murder and domestic terrorism motivated by hate, a charge that carried an automatic life sentence.
“There can be no mercy for you, no understanding, no second chances,” Judge Susan Eagan said as she sentenced him.
Gendron, 19, also faces separate federal charges that could carry a death sentence if the U.S. Justice Department chooses to seek it. His defense attorney said in December that Gendron is prepared to plead guilty in federal court as well to avoid execution. New York state does not have the death penalty.
Gendron wore bullet-resistant armor and a helmet equipped with a livestreaming camera as he carried out the May 14 attack with a semiautomatic rifle he purchased legally but then modified so he could load it with illegal high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Tamika Harper, a niece of victim Geraldine Talley, said she hoped Gendron would pray for forgiveness.
“Do I hate you? No. Do I want you to die? No. I want you to stay alive. I want you to think about this every day of your life,” she said, speaking gently. “Think about my family and the other nine families that you’ve destroyed forever.”
Gendron locked eyes with Harper as she spoke, then lowered his head and cried.
Kimberly Salter, the widow of security guard Aaron Salter, explained that she and her family were wearing “red for the blood that he shed for his family and for his community, and black because we are still grieving.”
Christopher Braden, a Tops Friendly Market employee who was shot in the leg, said he was haunted by seeing the victims where they lay as he was carried out of the store.
“The visions haunt me in my sleep and every day,” he said.
Barbara Massey Mapps excoriated him for killing her 72-year-old sister, Katherine Massey. As Mapps shouted and pointed at Gendron, a person in the audience took a few steps toward him before getting held back.
“You don’t know what we’re going through,” a man shouted as he was led away by court officers. For several minutes thereafter, family members hugged and calmed each other.
Eagan then ordered Gendron back in and let the proceeding resume after admonishing everyone to “conduct ourselves appropriately.”
In his short statement, Gendron acknowledged he “shot and killed people because they were Black.”
“I believed what I read online and acted out of hate, and now I can’t take it back, but I wish I could, and I don’t want anyone to be inspired by me,” he said as a woman in the courtroom audience stood up, screamed that “we don’t need” his remarks and stormed out.
There were only three survivors among the 13 people he shot while specifically seeking out Black shoppers and workers.
His victims at the Tops market included a church deacon, the grocery store’s guard, a neighborhood activist, a man shopping for a birthday cake, a grandmother of nine and the mother of a former Buffalo fire commissioner. The victims ranged in age from 32 to 86.
In documents posted online, Gendron said he hoped the attack would help preserve white power in the U.S. He wrote that he picked the Tops grocery store, about a three-hour drive from his home in Conklin, New York, because it was in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
The mass shooting in Buffalo, and another less than two weeks later that killed 19 students and two teachers at a Texas elementary school, amplified calls for stronger gun controls, including from victims’ relatives who traveled to Washington, D.C. to testify before lawmakers.
New York legislators quickly passed a law banning semiautomatic rifle sales to most people under age 21. The state also banned sales of some types of body armor.
President Joe Biden signed a compromise gun violence bill in June intended to toughen background checks, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and help states put in place red flag laws making it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.