Photo via Aramis Ayala campaign
The controversy over Gov. Rick Scott's decision to yank Orange-Osceola prosecutor Aramis Ayala from the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd continued to escalate Thursday when black lawmakers demanded that the governor rescind his order.
Scott reassigned the case of Loyd, accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and murdering Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton, to another prosecutor after Ayala announced last week she would not seek the death penalty for Loyd, or any other defendants during her time in office.
Ayala, the first black elected state attorney in Florida, told reporters last week she arrived at her decision not to seek the death penalty in any cases because "doing so is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice."
Within hours, Scott reassigned the case to Ocala-based State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken proponent of the death penalty.
But a who's who of legal experts, including two former Florida Supreme Court chief justices, objected that Scott lacks the power to remove Ayala from the case. Ayala this week asked a court to rule on the issue, arguing that she, like other prosecutors, has broad discretion in deciding whether to seek the death penalty or life in prison in murder cases.
A number of predominantly African-American organizations, including the NAACP and the National Bar Association, have thrown their support behind Ayala, and on Thursday, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus joined in, accusing Scott of a "power grab."
"Unchecked and unchanged, Gov. Scott's hasty response to State Attorney Ayala's announcement sets a dangerous precedent and is a slap in the face to the voters who carried her into office," Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale lawyer who is chairman of the caucus, told reporters at a news conference. "Such executive action has never before been countenanced by the Florida electorate, and is unlikely to withstand judicial scrutiny."
Equally troubling for some were the comments of Stan McCullers, a Seminole County clerk`s office employee who posted on his Facebook page that Ayala "should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree."
"It's 2017 and the newly elected state attorney was threatened with a lynching. That's why we're here today," state Rep. Sean Shaw, D-Tampa, said. "The death penalty is a link to the sordid past of Florida where lynching was used to terrorize our community."
McCullers has resigned, Seminole County Clerk and Comptroller Grant Maloy said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Despite the furor, Scott has remained steadfast in his decision to boot Ayala off the Loyd case.
"Well, what doesn't make sense to me is, one, that you should always fully prosecute the law. That's what all of us expect out of our elected officials. That's one. This case in particular, it's just horrible," Scott told reporters in Orlando.
A handful of outraged Republican lawmakers have asked Scott to remove Ayala from office for refusing to pursue the death penalty.
"My office is reviewing what our options are, and we'll figure that out down the road," Scott reiterated Thursday.