TAMPA — When Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he was removing State Attorney Andrew Warren, he had a prominent Hillsborough law enforcement official in his corner.
Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister agreed to host the DeSantis news conference in a Sheriff’s Office building and he had some Hillsborough deputies stand among the group behind DeSantis. After DeSantis made his announcement, Chronister weighed in.
“Over the last several years, State Attorney Warren has acted as an adjudicator of all, as if some type of supreme authority, by reducing charges, dropping cases and singlehandedly determining what crimes will be legal or illegal in our county,” Chronister said.
So what do other current law enforcement and criminal justice officials who regularly work with Warren think of the governor’s decision?
Few were commenting publicly Thursday, if they responded to queries at all.
Public Defender Julianne Holt, who for years has worked with Warren, Chronister and Hillsborough Chief Judge Ronald Ficarrotta to implement criminal justice reform measures in the county, did not respond to a voicemail and two text messages.
Ficarrotta said he could not comment on the decision.
The Tampa Bay Times sent queries to the police chiefs in Hillsborough’s three cities, asking if they were invited to the news conference and whether they agreed or disagreed with the decision.
Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor was not invited to attend and could not have done so anyway because the department does not allow employees to participate in political events, said Adam Smith, the city’s communications director.
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O’Connor is not commenting on DeSantis’ move, Smith said in an email, but “has assured TPD employees that their mission is (the) same today as yesterday.”
O’Connor’s boss, Mayor Jane Castor, who was the city’s police chief from 2009 to 2015, denounced Warren’s removal.
“Removing a duly elected official should be based on egregious actions — not political statements,” Castor tweeted. “In a free state, voters should choose their elected officials.”
Plant City Police Chief James Bradford, a former Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office colonel who worked on Chronister’s command staff, did not respond to questions sent to a department spokesperson.
Temple Terrace Police Chief Ken Albano did not respond to messages sent to a city spokesperson and left at his office.
DeSantis trotted out some of his backers from other counties to voice their support for the move, including Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco, who said little specific about Warren but made sure to heap praise on DeSantis, calling him “probably the greatest governor in our country.”
Darla Portman, president of the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said the union was “extremely surprised” by the move but applauded DeSantis “for stepping in to uphold the law when the man who is charged with doing so refuses to his job.”
”Criminals became emboldened knowing they had Andrew Warren on their side but that stops today,” Portman said in a statement. “Cops throughout Hillsborough and Tampa are cheering knowing they don’t have to worry about risking their lives for nothing. In all my history as a police officer, I had never seen anyone as negligent in that position as Andrew Warren.”
The Times asked other prominent Tampa Bay officials to weigh in on the bombshell news.
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and Clearwater Dan Slaughter all declined to comment.
An assistant in Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett’s office said he was out of the office Thursday. Bartlett did not respond to a message left on his cellphone.
Allison Miller, a former public defender in the Pinellas-Pasco circuit and a Democrat seeking to unseat Bartlett, a Republican, called DeSantis’s move “a dangerous overreach of power and the latest assault on Floridians’ personal freedoms and fundamental rights.”
“Clearly Gov. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, and their band of vigilante sheriffs have no regard for fair elections that have already been decided by the people OR ‘law and order’ that they wrap themselves up in whenever it’s convenient for their political agenda,” Miller said in a statement.
In a statement Thursday held before a news conference, Warren called DeSantis’ move “a political stunt and illegal overreach” that’s meant to further DeSantis’ own political ambitions and “spits in the face of the voters of Hillsborough County” who elected Warren twice.
Times staff writers Dan Sullivan and Natalie Weber contributed to this report.