With the legislative session coming to a close, the judicial consolidation issue is truly finished

Dennis Ward, State’s Attorney for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

The legislative session is ending in Tallahassee and it looks like the consolidation of Monroe County and Miami-Dade County judicial districts did not move forward.

Ward said, “What a terrible idea that was coming out of Tallahassee with the highest elected officials of the state of Florida proposing that. That would have been a catastrophe for the citizens and taxpayers of Monroe County. I’m glad that the Supreme Court established a great committee to deal with that. I’m very happy and satisfied about the cooperation and the camaraderie that was developed in Monroe County between all of our residents, and especially you guys in the media, had a lot to do with this. It was just a great push by all of us to end this stupid idea.”

Times have also been tough for Haiti.

Ward said, “You’re talking about the government that going to collapse. I mean, I think that government collapsed a while ago. Nobody’s just pushed it over yet. It’s sad, what’s going on there and I guess, being so close to America and the ties that we have with Haiti, I believe that America is going to have to try and build that country back up. I mean, just the things that it’s been through, the floods and the storms and just wiping out all the trees that stopped the mudslides and just one catastrophe after another. I just think that it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of effort and the lawlessness has been going on. Once you get the toothpaste out of the out of the tube, it’s difficult to get it back in, which is why we take such a tough approach on a lot of crimes here in Monroe County, because once you let these people get a foothold it’s more difficult to get them out of there. You talk about border wall wars. Well, we’re fighting a war on our border here between us and Dade County and the influx of people into southern Dade County and the spillover into our county with crimes that are not as well prosecuted in Dade County as they are in Monroe County. We want to keep it that way and we don’t need any progressive attitudes down here. I value and cherish the safety of our residents and visitors and welcome people to come here, but once you allow people to get a foothold like that, then it’s going to be more difficult to get them out of here.”

There were recent issues with the Pagan motorcycle group in the Keys.

Ward said, “The last few weeks, I’ve been talking to various citizens who are concerned about whether or not we’re aware that the pagan group is down here, the pagan motorcycle group. We’re aware they’re here. We try and convey the message to them that we’re not going to put up with their antics. But sometimes they’re going to do what they want to do. And then we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do. I don’t think they’re going to like the outcome of the measures that we’re going to institute to have them leave this county and go wherever they want to go. Go to Daytona. It’s Bike Week or something up there, have fun. But don’t come back here because we got some jail cells for you, and we’ll do our best to convict you. That’s the way we’re going to do it, because you’re not going to establish a foothold here. As we come along, and see what you guys are doing, and once we identify the individuals and the crimes they are committing, we’re going to take them to Sheriff Ramsay’s jail and we’re going to see if we can convict them and send them up to the state prison system.”

Resource violations will also not be tolerated.

Ward said, “We had a great sentence handed out by Judge Kelly down in the county courtroom in Key West. An individual with no prior history that had over the bag limit fish and lobster and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail. His fishing license was suspended for a year, fines, court costs, naturally an FWC course and he’ll be in Sheriff Ramsey’s jail for 30 days. We’ve got another one in the works, a trap robbing thing that I think we’re going to get some good results out of that. We will continue to prosecute these cases and seek jail time in these cases. It’s always great when you get the judges on the same pages as us and it’ll have an impact on the raping and pillaging of the natural resources of the Florida Keys.”

Abandoned and derelict vessels also affect our resources and the courts are taking a stance against them as well.

Ward said, “I had a an opportunity to go up to the Ocean Reef Chamber of Commerce meeting yesterday where a number of the FWC upper echelon brass were in attendance. I got to hear
Captain Dupre speak about FWC and what they do down here in the Florida Keys, and naturally one of the things he touched on was abandoned and derelict vessels. They are an eyesore and they become a problem. People just buy these boats and sit on these boats and just let them deteriorate until they sink. Their sails don’t work, their steering is an operative. So they’re basically dead in the water. We still see these derelict and abandoned vessels. I’ve instructed my prosecutors, it’s a first degree misdemeanor, is punishable by 364 days in jail. Well, right off the bat, we’re asking for 180 days, and these people come in and it costs somewhere around $15,000, on average, to get these boats out of the water and the taxpayers of the state of Florida are paying that fee for these people’s irresponsibilities. They’re warned over and over and over again, to bring their boats into compliance, they choose not to comply. So right off the bat, we asked for 180 days jail. Sometimes people say well put them on probation and let them make payments, they stopped making payments. Then you get the sad story that this is not pauper’s prison. We don’t put people in jail for their inability to pay their court costs and fines. This is a whole different scenario. I mean, drive up and down just North Roosevelt that boat that sat off of there for, I don’t know, a couple of years, that’s finally gone. We’ve got a couple up at the mile marker 113 off the stretch there, you see those two boats that are sitting there. The last thing people see when they leave the Florida Keys are potholes and abandoned boats sitting there off the causeway. I’m making a push to get rid of those. After the after the meeting, I spoke to Captain Dupre and said, hey, look, it’s time for these things to go. They’re an eyesore. They’re navigational hazards. There’s so many problems with these things. So if you’re on a boat, or you know somebody on a boat, and actually some people use it as housing, there’s no question about it. But you’ve got to keep the thing operational.”

Are the drug cases diminishing?

Ward said, “It’s the sheriff. It’s the police chief down in Key West. It’s all of our law enforcement partners, and certainly it’s the state attorney’s office with the stance that we’ve taken, especially on fentanyl and the amount of people that we’ve charged and gone to the grand jury and come back with first degree murder indictments on these fentanyl sale cases. When you listen to the jail calls of some of these defendants in jail, I mean, they flat out say, look, this is not the place to do this. They need to go elsewhere. But I believe it’s because of our strong stance on it and the hard work done by an understaffed sheriff’s department and understaffed State Attorney’s Office, I think it has a great impact. But of course, they may be in transition because we knocked out two of their big drug dealers, some fentanyl dealers that were shipping this stuff down from Homestead. It could be a transitional thing. So we’ll see.”

How is staffing going?

Ward said, “We’re down about 35% of our prosecutors and also our support staff, our legal secretaries, they do just such a great job. Our victim coordinators, they do great jobs. We’re short a few of those people. I was listening to Captain Dupre talking about how the FWC is short. There’s 50 spots down here and they’re about 15 short. I’ve got 12 prosecutors prosecuting all the crime up and down Monroe County. They service all those law enforcement officers, Florida Highway Patrol, FDLE, sheriff’s office, Key West Police Department, the municipalities that have their own police departments. So it’s an amazing job that my prosecutors do. Certainly they’re handling more cases than they should be handling. We’re looking to hire other people that certainly have that can prosecute these major crimes, and the effect at them because you learn that just coming up through the ranks of being an assistant state attorney, and you start at misdemeanors, and you finally work yourself into the felonies and then you start getting a minor major crime and you second chair different prosecutions, and you’ll learn what’s required to prosecute homicides and these sexual battery cases. I can’t believe the amount of sexual battery cases we’ve had recently here in Monroe County, and they’re all very technical. You just can’t teach that to people in a classroom. I mean, you could try but the best way to do that is on a job training and hands on type of things. We just don’t have that. We still have a number of homicide cases, and sexual battery cases pending from pre pandemic and during the pandemic, that need to be tried. I’m thankful that you allow me to come on your radio station and tell people like it is. I’m not telling these business people out there anything they don’t know, because they’re trying to find people to hire and people that could afford to live here as well.”