Sep 21, 2020

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Press Conference Transcript: Harsher Penalties for Violent Protesters

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Press Conference Transcript: Harsher Penalties for Violent Protesters
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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis held a press conference on September 21 to discuss new legislation that would harshen penalties for crimes committed during protests. Read the transcript of his remarks here.

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Governor DeSantis: (00:02)
Good afternoon. I want to thank all these great people we have with us today. We have incoming Senate President Wilton Simpson, and coming House Speaker Chris Sprowls. Of course, Sheriff Grady Judd, who’s been kind enough to host us here in wonderful Polk County. We also have Sheriff Bobby Schultz, who’s the president of the Florida Sheriff’s Association. Chief Jeff Pearson, Satellite Beach Police Department and president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association. We also have a Sheriff Bill Prummell from Charlotte, Sheriff Paul Blackman from Highlands, Sheriff Chris Nocco from Pasco, Sheriff Billy Woods from Marion. I think we all … Do we have other sheriffs, too? What’s that? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hernando. Great. Awesome. Thank you.

Governor DeSantis: (00:48)
Then we got a lot of police chiefs. Michael T., Lake Hamilton. Andy Ray, Auburndale. Retired Chief, Ed Freeman. Chief Charles Broadway from Clermont. Chief Richard Holland from Florida Polytechnic. Chief Melanie Bevan from Bradenton. Chief Ruben Garcia from Lakeland. Chief Art Bodenheimer from Lake Alfred. Chief Charles Vasquez, Tampa Airport. Chief Gary Calhoun from Eustis, and Chief Larry Holden from Davenport.

Governor DeSantis: (01:16)
Recently in our country, we have seen attacks on law enforcement. We’ve seen disorder and tumult in many cities across the country. You have situations where buildings will be in flames and on TV, even though sometimes the news will say it’s peaceful. You see the flames behind there. I think that this has been a really, really sad chapter in American history. Now, in Florida when we started to see some of the disorder, we immediately moved to mobilize the National Guard. We had Florida Highway Patrol, quick response teams ready to go. Sent them to the various communities who needed the support, whether it was in central Florida or southern Florida. And we had law enforcement officers all throughout the state who were intent on keeping the people safe, keeping people’s businesses secure.

Governor DeSantis: (02:09)
I think that they did a great job, and you didn’t see the type of disorder here in the state of Florida that you did throughout many other parts of the country. But I think we need to do more than what we’ve already done. One thing we have to do is we have to stand unequivocally behind the people behind me who put on the uniform, and put themselves at risk to be able to defend our freedoms and defend our society. I can tell you this. When there is a victim in need in the state of Florida, regardless of race, color, creed, any characteristic you can think … when there is a victim at risk, these folks are going to respond. And they are going to be there, and they are going to stand up for the people who may not be able to stand up for themselves. That’s what they do every day at risk to themselves, and they’re going to continue to do that. That is what is going to happen in the state of Florida.

Governor DeSantis: (03:04)
At the same time, I think we need to do more in terms of having a strong legislative response so that we do not always have to play whack-a-mole anytime you have situations like this develop. I’m proud today to be able to announce what will be a focal point of the next legislative session. A legislative proposal, which we’re calling the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting, and Law Enforcement Protection Act that will probably be the boldest and most comprehensive piece of legislation to address these issues anywhere in the country.

Governor DeSantis: (03:37)
There’s a number of things that we’ll be doing. We are going to impose criminal penalties for violent or disorderly assemblies, and that’ll be a third degree felony. We will also require a felony if you incapacitate any of the roadways. We see people take over interstates. That is absolutely hazardous. It’s not fair to motorist who may get caught up in that. That will be unacceptable. Also, we have a prohibition on destroying or toppling any type of public property, including monuments. That’s not the way to go about it, and we will hold you accountable.

Governor DeSantis: (04:14)
Also have a prohibition on harassing innocent people in public accommodations. You see that these videos of these innocent people eating dinner, and you have these crazed lunatics just screaming at them and intimidating them on a public accommodation. You’re not going to do that here in the state of Florida. We’re also going to use RICO liability to anyone who organizes or funds a violent or disorderly assembly. If you look at some of the people who’ve been involved in this violence, these are people that will come from all across the country. If there’s any type of issue, they all of a sudden show up in all these places. We’re going to figure out who’s organizing and who’s funding that and hold them accountable.

Governor DeSantis: (04:53)
But what you have to have is clear and predictable penalties. I look at what goes on in Portland, and they’ll have people, they’ll arrest them … these are all scraggly looking Antifa types. They get their mugshot taken, and then they get released, and it’s like a carousel. On and on it goes. That’s not going to happen here in Florida. If you are involved in a violent or disorderly assembly and you harm somebody, if you throw a brick and hit a police officer, you’re going to jail. And there’s going to be a mandatory minimum jail sentence of at least six months for anyone who strikes a police officer, either with any weapon or projectile. We’re also not going to simply let people back out onto the street.

Governor DeSantis: (05:40)
If you are in custody for one of these offenses relating to a violent or disorderly assembly, you’re not getting bail before your first appearance. And then there is a rebuttable presumption against bail after that. We also have offense enhancements. If you do throw an object during a violent or disorderly assembly, that will be an enhanced penalty, as well as assault or battery of a law enforcement officer during one of these violent or disorderly assemblies. And if you are from another state and you come to participate in one of these violent or disorderly assemblies, you’re going to have extra penalties imposed on you as well.

Governor DeSantis: (06:18)
But that’s not enough. We have to understand that there’s more that needs to be done. We have a number of initiatives designed to protect citizens and taxpayers. One, we are not going to permit localities to defund the police. If you defund the police, then the state is going to defund any grant or aids coming to you. And that applies to any municipality or local government throughout the state of Florida.

Governor DeSantis: (06:43)
We also understand that victims need to be compensated. If you have a situation where a local government is grossly negligent, where they abdicate their responsibility to protect people and property like we saw in some of these cities throughout the United States, we will waive sovereign immunity and let you get compensated by suing those local governments. You also will not be eligible for state benefits or employment if you get convicted of participating in a violent or disorderly assembly. We believe that that’s something that makes sense from a taxpayer perspective.

Governor DeSantis: (07:18)
This is a very robust package. I think what it’s saying is we are not going to let Florida go down the road that some of these other places have gone. If you can do this and get away with it, then you’re going to have more people do it. If you do it and you know that there’s going to be a ton of bricks rain down on you, then I think that people will think twice about engaging in this type of conduct. And ultimately, safe communities are the foundation of everything else that we care about as Floridians. Having good schools … well, if you don’t have a safe community, you probably aren’t going to have good schools. Having a good economy. Probably not going to have a great economy if you don’t have safe neighborhoods. Everything flows from public safety. Florida has done a great-

Governor DeSantis: (08:03)
So everything flows from public safety. Florida has done a great job over many decades in reducing crime, and we’re going to continue to do that. But I think you look other places around the country, who’ve gone in a different direction, you are seeing crime increase. You’re certainly seeing murders increase in some of these, what I would determine, more lawless jurisdictions. We can’t let that happen. Every Floridian needs to be able to live in a secure environment, and I can tell you, we’ll back up the law enforcement because we know that they’re going to be the first one on the call when somebody is in jeopardy.

Governor DeSantis: (08:35)
I also think it’s important we have the leadership of the incoming House and Senate, and they’re going to support this, and I’ll have a few comments to make. But I think it’s important that every single person running for office in the State of Florida this year, whether you’re running for the House, whether you’re running for the Senate, you have an obligation to let the voters know where you stand on this bill. Are you going to stand with victims? Are you going to stand with law enforcement? Are you going to stand with law and order and safe communities? Or are you going to stand with the mob? That’s the choice that each person running for office is going to have to make. I know where I stand and I know where the leaders of our legislature stand.

Governor DeSantis: (09:13)
So it’s an honor for me to be able to introduce … They’ll both come up and say a few words. So we’ll first introduce the incoming Senate President, Wilton Simpson.

Wilton Simpson: (09:24)
Thank you, Governor. It’s an honor to be here today and stand with you and law enforcement as we start to look at this piece of legislation that we’ll be enacting hopefully in the next few months.

Wilton Simpson: (09:35)
Our law enforcement officers put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. As a past chairman of our Economic Development Council, when large businesses are looking to move into a state or a local municipality, one of the first things I ask, it’s always in the top three, is, “Do you have a SWAT team on your law enforcement? How prepared is your law enforcement?” And so it’s a high priority of business to make sure that you have a safe community. But if you are at your home and someone’s breaking into it, if you’re in a business and someone is looting, burning down your business, you’re going to call law enforcement, and they deserve our backing to the full extent of the law. We’re looking forward to making sure this becomes law, making sure that we’re standing with law enforcement, having the tools they need to do their job with. And as part of the legislature, I look forward to making sure that we have the right funding to make sure that our law enforcement feels like they have the tools they need to do their jobs with.

Wilton Simpson: (10:30)
So thank you all for coming out here today, and thank you Governor. And [crosstalk 00:10:34]-

Governor DeSantis: (10:33)
Chris?

Wilton Simpson: (10:33)
… Sprowls.

Chris Sprowls: (10:35)
Thank you. Thank you President [inaudible 00:10:37] Simpson and Governor DeSantis. You know, this is a unique day, and it’s a unique day because here in the State of Florida today, you have the governor, you have the incoming Senate president, and many men and women here, law enforcement from across the state, who are making it very clear that our number one priority in government in the State of Florida, is to protect peoples’ lives, their communities, their neighborhoods and their property. Governor, I commend you. As the son of a police officer, as a former prosecutor, there is no governor in the State of Florida who has been more bold in defending the rule of law and defending police officers in our community than Governor DeSantis. And Governor mentioned all these other states. Look around. Look in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, the CHOP Zone, look at how there is lawlessness in these communities. Look how New York and LA have cut 500 million plus dollars from their law enforcement officers. The Downtown Manhattan looks more like an illustration of Gotham City than it does the heartbeat of America’s financial sector.

Chris Sprowls: (11:40)
And yet, the elected officials in those states, the elected officials in those communities, have advocated their number one responsibility to empower their law enforcement officers to defend their neighbors. The number one responsibility of government. And what Governor DeSantis has rolled out here today makes it very clear that we will not be culpable in the same kind of negligence in our state, that we will stand behind law enforcement, that we will stand behind neighborhoods, and we will make it clear that no matter what happens, we will not become those states. We won’t tolerate 20% rise in violent crime rates in our state because we’re going to empower our law enforcement officers to do their job.

Chris Sprowls: (12:17)
For that, I am eternally grateful, Governor. Thank you.

Governor DeSantis: (12:20)
Great. Sheriff Judd?

Sheriff Judd: (12:23)
Thank you, Governor. And for everyone across the United States today, this is what leadership looks like. So I ask the other states, where’s your governor? Where’s your Speaker of the House? Where’s your president of the Senate? Why aren’t they standing together? This is remarkable. This is a state where you want to come on vacation, this is a state where you want to grow your business, and this is a state where you’re safe. Because after all, if you’re not safe, your children’s not safe, and you don’t feel safe, then you can’t prosper.

Sheriff Judd: (12:59)
And in this state, there’s a 49-year low crime rate. That doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t happen when you listen to a handful of people who think we ought to let criminals out of jail. I can tell you folks, so that there’s no misunderstanding today, this is a peaceful protest. This is a riot. We can tell the difference. The governor can tell the difference. Our law enforcement officers can tell the difference. In the event you didn’t get that, let me show you something. This is a peaceful protest. This is looting. If you loot, the next thing you can try to steal is something off of your food tray at the county jail. Because you’re going to jail. That’s a guarantee. And we’re going to enjoy taking you down there.

Sheriff Judd: (14:08)
Some people are slow learners. This is peaceful protest. This is violence. It’s not acceptable. I truly believe in our God given right, in our constitutional right, to speak openly and freely, to address our government. That’s important. We listen every day. But I’ve also watched across this country when law enforcement officers who put their life on the line were told to stand down, allow them to burn the precinct, allow them to rob and loot. You have no idea, Governor, and speaker and president of the Senate, how proud we are of you just being here and saying, “We’re going to introduce this legislation.” But just being here and saying that you support us, the men and women of law enforcement that write you a ticket today, will stand in front of a bullet for you tonight. The men and women of law enforcement, who you throw a brick at today, will jump in a river to keep you from drowning tonight. I want you to remember that. We’re not the enemies. We’re your friend. We’re your friend when you don’t have any friends. We’re the ones that make a positive difference in your life when nobody else will help. We’re the ones that every time you dial 911, we respond.

Sheriff Judd: (15:44)
The reason we can do that with strength and energy is because we have Governor DeSantis, and we have Speaker Sprowls, and we have our President, Wilton Simpson, of the Senate, and we have great leaders-

Sheriff Judd: (16:03)
.. of the Senate. And we have great leaders in our police departments and our sheriff’s offices. So Governor, please know we are eternally grateful. And Chris, welcome. You all are the best. Thank you. We will stand in the gap between good and evil. Make no mistake about it. Everyone in this county, everyone in this state, and everyone in this nation deserves to be safe and secure. And they are in Florida because this is real leadership.

Governor DeSantis: (16:37)
Thanks. Well, thank you, Sheriff. We’re also going to hear from Sheriff Bobby Schultz, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Bobby Shultz: (16:48)
Governor, it is an honor to be here today with you and the courage that you and the legislative leadership here has to know that you have our back in law enforcement, that your dedication and commitment to the rule of law, and law and order, is paramount to what we get to enjoy here in Florida. You know, the governor said something a few minutes ago that resonated with me. There’s some folks coming into election year. We need to ask those tough questions. Because it’s very easy for us to sit there and say we support law enforcement, that we condemn these things. These men just stood in front of you and told you where they stand. The folks that’s running, they need to tell you where they stand. And if they’re not in the same like-minded position of these men, they don’t need to be there. End of story.

Bobby Shultz: (17:40)
Because without law and order, you can’t have the freedoms that we have. It’s impossible. As Sheriff Judd said, there’s lots of things in our country that we have that can only come through safety. So I’m very thankful to be here today. I look forward to the upcoming year that this thing is a no brainer. If you support law and order, and I’d hope that all of our legislators do, this should go unanimous. It should go by one of the quickest things that goes through our legislative session. I look forward to helping them. Anything that I can do to have their back, I will do it. And I’m very grateful for the men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line for no other reason, because it is the right thing to do. Again, Governor, thank you very much for your dedication.

Governor DeSantis: (18:26)
Yep. And then we have Chief Jeff Pearson, Satellite Beach Police Department, and the president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

Jeff Pearson: (18:35)
Thank you, Governor. On behalf of the Florida Police Chiefs Association and over 900 of the Florida’s top law enforcement executives from across every region in the state, we want to thank Governor DeSantis for his strong leadership and dedication to maintaining public order and keeping the peace. The measures put forth today by Governor DeSantis are urgently needed to protect the lives and property of every Floridian. Peaceful protest is a defining hallmark of our society, and that member agencies of the Florida Police Chiefs Association are committed to protecting every citizen’s right to peaceful protest. But violence is never the answer. Violent protests endanger danger lives and threaten the rights of every other citizen we are sworn to protect. Violent and disorderly assembly, destroying property, harassing and threatening citizens going about their business, attacking law enforcement, these are all unacceptable. And we applaud Governor DeSantis and our fellow leaders here for addressing these items head on. Thank you, Governor, for your unwavering support for Florida’s law enforcement and for the rule of law. Thank you.

Governor DeSantis: (19:48)
Well, thank you. And I appreciate everyone’s being here to support. You look around the country and I think it’s pretty clear that morale is very low in many police forces, sheriff’s departments. And I’m not saying Florida has been completely impervious to some of what’s gone on, but I got to think that morale’s a lot better here because we have more people that stand up for the folks who are standing up for us. And so we’re going to continue to do that. Certainly as governor, I know we have a legislature that’s very, very supportive. But this is something that, if you look at what’s gone on in some parts of our country, we just can’t allow that to happen here. I think they all did a great job thus far, but I think these will be important tools to really be able to make sure that our communities stay safe. And with that, happy to take some questions.

Speaker 1: (20:42)
Governor, how much money are you going to ask for for this [inaudible 00:04:46]?

Governor DeSantis: (20:46)
Don’t know yet. I mean, a lot of this stuff are more just subsidive criminal offenses. You have some where we may actually may save money. I mean, if a municipality actually defends police, we’re going to be able to withhold state funding for them. The victims’ compensation will be lawsuits that are filed against local jurisdictions. And so that will come out of their kitty. And hopefully they don’t do some of the things that was mentioned where these law enforcement were told to stand down and allow the rioting and allow the looting and allow the violence.

Governor DeSantis: (21:21)
I can tell you, when we had issues in Florida, by and large, we had folks who took it very seriously at the local level. And I anticipate that continuing. But at the same time, I look at people like in Minneapolis who had businesses that they built their whole life. And all of a sudden, it’s just a pile of ash. And it was a pile of ash because the police were told not to defend it. And so that’s a big, big problem. So I think that this is probably not going to require very much in terms of funding. Yes ma’am.

Speaker 1: (22:02)
[ inaudible 00:22:02].

Governor DeSantis: (22:03)
So what it will be is if you have a tough budget year and you do cuts, it is what it is. But if you single out disproportionally reducing law enforcement or cutting back law enforcement funding, that’s when this would detach. We do want to recognize that sometimes there are tough calls that need to be made and it’s not that law enforcement’s singled out. But when you see what happened in Los Angeles or New York where they’re just taking massive amounts of money, that is going to put the community at risk. It will absolutely do that. And so for us as the state, there has to be consequences to that. And yes, there’ll be an election eventually. But that’s small comfort for people in the intervening time. So I think there needs to be an immediate amount of accountability. And so I think we’ve done it in a way that makes sense. But it does recognize, I mean, tough times. You may need to do an across the board reduction sometimes. It’s not good. I would still try to not touch law enforcement in that, but that’s different than singling out the police.

Speaker 1: (23:11)
Will we see an increase in funding for mental health and substance abuse services?

Governor DeSantis: (23:11)
Well, we did that in this past budget. I mean, we had more and more money, particularly for schools for mental health. And so we think that that’s important. I think if you look, and people, I think, have really not done a good job of focusing on, in terms of the pandemic, the fact that one virus is not the only health issue and that this pandemic has exacerbated drug abuse, suicide, mental health. And so those were tough issues anyways, but I think that there was some progress being made, particularly on the opioids. I think that the last six or so months has kind of brought us back. And I think that’s true across the country. And I think in Florida we’ve been able to mitigate it because of our approach, recognize that. But it’s going to continue to be an issue. So we’re glad that we have that funding in for the schools. We have drawn down more federal dollars. We anticipate that there’ll be more that will be-

Governor DeSantis: (24:03)
… I’ve drawn down more federal dollars. We anticipate that there’ll be more that will be able to be used for mental health.

Governor DeSantis: (24:14)
Right. I mean, I think it would have to be you have a protest, you go, and then the next day you have people looting. That’s different. I think what you’re seeing in some of this is you do have people who are coming who aren’t from these communities who come from all over the country. A lot of them actually come from Portland and some other places. And so they’ll just show up and there will be a protest that is probably legitimate and they will hijack that and then use that as camouflage. So obviously I would think in that situation, we would want to focus on some of the out of state stuff, focus on the [inaudible 00:24:47] for where those people are coming from and recognize. And I will say this. In Florida, part of it was I think we took it seriously.

Governor DeSantis: (24:53)
But part of it is you had a lot of the protests that just were legitimately nonviolent. I mean, when you have folks that were born in the Civil Rights Movement, nonviolence to them, you talk to some of these African American pastors, that’s like a fish in water. I mean, it just goes hand in hand. And so we absolutely recognize that and appreciated that at the time. And I think that that’s been overall the way it’s gone/ but I think we see that some of this stuff can spin out of control. And so we want to make sure that we’re able to do that. But I am very interested in seeing how some of this stuff gets funded.

Governor DeSantis: (25:29)
I mean, for example, there’s cities where there are just bricks just dropped off on a city corner. Where’s that coming from? Who’s funding, just dropping bricks so people can go grab bricks? That seems like an odd thing to do. Obviously, if that was a legitimate thing, they wouldn’t be doing that at that time. So where does some of this stuff happen? How do you see some of these people that always seem to end up in these areas? Where’s that coming from? So I think it would be good to really get to the bottom of it. I know DOJ is working on it, but I think here, if we see that in Florida, we definitely want to take action.

Governor DeSantis: (26:09)
Well, it’s going to be negotiated, but it’s going to be an offense enhancement and then likely have a mandatory jail term attached to it. And we’ll work with the legislature on that. But I think that that’s something that’s very, very important. We don’t want people to be coming out of state to try to foment disorder or violence in our communities. I mean, we don’t want anyone in Florida doing that, obviously, but when people kind of come, you have some of these people that will go and I think what we’re sending the signal is is Florida’s kind of off the table for you. It’s not going to end well for you here. Not that I want them to go to other places, but quite frankly, there’s other places that aren’t doing what they need to do to protect the public. And so we view that as very, very significant, and we will absolutely do all we can to be able to hold people accountable. I don’t think so. I think actually you have peaceful protestors that have also worked to stop violence. I think that they’ve been on the same team with a lot of the law enforcement, but what I would say is if you’re in a legitimate protest and someone next to you grabs a brick and hits law enforcement in the head with it, you probably need to get that person out of there and help bring that person to justice. So I think that that’s a good incentive and I don’t think there’s … First of all, it would be counterproductive to try to do anything for people who are peacefully protesting. But we’ve seen these images throughout different parts of the country, and when you have rubble leftover, like we saw in Kenosha, Wisconsin, perpetual state of lawlessness like we see in Portland or Seattle, total destruction that we saw in Minneapolis, the disorder in New York City and some of these other places, as Sheriff Judd said, you know the difference. This is not something that’s going to be very difficult to do.

Governor DeSantis: (28:05)
And I think it will send a strong signal. And once someone comes, the first time they grabbed that brick and they hit the police officer in the head, and then they get arrested, they’re held without bail, they have mandatory time in jail, you’re not going to see people throw bricks anymore. I mean, they do it because they think they can get away with it. And even some of the stuff in Florida, I mean, there were people that did some things that were prosecuted, but not really I think held accountable to the extent necessary to really deter future activity. I think this one will do that. You light a building on fire, you really need to have serious punishment for that. And I think that this bill will help get us there.

Governor DeSantis: (28:48)
So I want to thank everybody behind me, not just for support in the effort, but for supporting our communities, particularly in difficult times. I mean, you’re in a situation where every little move you make could be demagogued by folks. There’s been I think a climate that’s been very negative. I mean, when you see what happened in Los Angeles with these police officers just sitting in the vehicle and see things like that happen, it’s not an easy time to be in law enforcement. And if it’s some comfort that we have folks in Florida standing up, I’m happy with that. The fact that we’re willing to do what we can to really make sure we have safe communities and protect law enforcement, hopefully that this will be something that other states will look to emulate.

Governor DeSantis: (29:36)
But now’s the time to do stuff. I mean, we’ve seen this go on long enough. These folks, every time they put on the uniform and go out, they have a family at home, there’s a risk there. And the family knows that they could be in harm’s way, that you could have an incident at any time. And of course, as I’ve said before, they’re going into the fires to help these victims. They’re going into situations where people’s lives are in danger. They’re going in to situations where their safety is not guaranteed, and they do that every day. And so I just want to say thank you for all you do. We’re supportive of your efforts. And we want to make sure that Florida, while a place for robust debate and people being able to do whatever they want in terms of demonstrating their beliefs, that we have zero tolerance for violence, zero tolerance for disorder, and zero tolerance for looting. So thanks everybody.