Prosecutor: Proposed budget cuts ‘threaten public safety’

Orlando-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala, targeted by GOP lawmakers for her refusal to seek the death penalty in the high-profile case of accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd, warned that budget cuts aimed at slashing 21 positions and $1.3 million from her office would “severely impact her agency’s ability to prosecute crimes” and “threaten public safety.”

Ayala sparked the wrath of Republican officials, including Gov. Rick Scott, after announcing earlier this month that she would not pursue death for Loyd — accused of killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and the execution-style killing of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton — or defendants in any other capital capital cases during her time in office.

Scott swiftly removed Ayala from the Loyd case and reassigned it to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, an outspoken death penalty proponent.

The governor’s ousting created a groundswell of support for Ayala, the first black elected state attorney in Florida, and focused new attention on the state’s long-troubled death penalty. More than 100 law professors and legal experts, most of them death penalty opponents, maintain that Scott lacks the authority to remove her from the case.

A number of national organizations, including the NAACP, are backing  Ayala, and her opposition to the death penalty has galvanized opposition, although there’s little chance that the latest spotlight will sway the Florida Legislature’s support for the death sentence.

Earlier this week, House and Senate budget committees proposed slashing Ayala’s budget by $1.3 million and axing 21 positions from her office.

But death penalty cases only make up less than .01 percent of the total cases handled by Ayala’s agency, her spokeswoman Eryka Washington said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The other 99.99% include non-capital homicides, sexual batteries, sex crimes against children, domestic violence, drug and human trafficking, carjackings, robberies, burglaries, DUI’s thefts, aggravated assaults, batteries and other violent and non-violent crimes,” Washington wrote.

The proposed budget and staff cuts “would severely impact this agency’s ability to effectively prosecute crimes, threaten public safety and ultimately have an economic impact on the central Florida community,” Washington added.

The proposed cuts could also harm the region’s tourism industry, Washington warned.

“The millions of tourist and people who call central Florida home are able to enjoy the public safety this community offers.  They should not be impacted by political posturing. It is my hope that we all stand in solidarity to ensure the public safety for the State of Florida,” she wrote.

Ayala’s response to the proposed budget cuts comes a day before her supporters are scheduled to rally outside the Capitol.

Individuals traveling on buses from Orlando, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Jacksonville, Pensacola and South Florida are expected to participate in the event.

Sponsors of the ‘Ride for Aramis’ include the NAACP, Latino Justice, Florida Council of Churches, Orange County Black Voice, Let Your Voice Be Heard Orlando, Color of Change, The 8th Amendment Project, and Equal Justice USA, according to a press release.

___ Posted by Dara Kam