A Florida county court official has been suspended with pay after making a death threat against a state attorney who recently announced she will not seek the death penalty in any murder case, including cases in which police officers are killed.
The Orlando Sentinel reports 52-year-old Stan McCullars, the assistant finance director at the Seminole County Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s Office and a registered Republican, was placed on administrative leave Monday after posting Facebook comments calling for the lynching of Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Ayala, recently elected the first black state attorney in Florida history, made national headlines last week after she announced her office would not seek the death penalty in any case, including that of Markeith Loyd, who allegedly killed his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton in January.
“Maybe SHE should get the death penalty,” McCullars wrote. “She should be tarred and feathered if not hung from a tree.”
County officials said McCullars was placed on paid administrative leave with pay “while we investigate to determine the proper disciplinary action.” Grant Maloy, Seminole County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller, said that McCullars’ comments “don’t reflect my beliefs or the beliefs of the comptroller’s office.”
McCullars subsequently deleted his comments, as well as his LinkedIn and Twitter pages — on which he had described himself as “happily married, Bible-believing Christian” and posted pro-Donald Trump tweets. He could not be reached for comment, but the Tampa Bay Times reports he posted on Facebook that “it was wrong of me to post that, I let my anger at her efforts to thwart justice get the best of me.”
There were growing calls for McCullars’ firing as news of his comments spread. “This overt act of racism directed at Florida’s first African-American state attorney should not be tolerated,” Orange County Democrats in a statement. “Nothing short of Mr. McCullars’ termination will be acceptable. Language such as this is unacceptable in 2017.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, at least 331 black people were lynched by whites in Florida between 1877 and 1950 — the third-highest per capita lynching total in the nation during that period. “Central Florida was a major area in this type of terrorism against African-American people,” University of Central Florida historian Vibert White explained. “Lynching was a way to keep African-Americans submissive, keep them fearful and keep them as second-class citizens.”
Such extrajudicial executions were often premeditated public spectacles where large crowds of rabidly racist whites gleefully gathered to watch the torture and murder of often innocent blacks. “It would be a picnic,” said White. “They would cut off body parts for souvenirs. These lynchings weren’t just mob violence. It was a case of organized violence.”
Many law enforcement and victims’ advocates were incensed by Ayala’s announcement. John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association, blasted Ayala in a press conference, calling her a “coward.”
“In life there are cowards, and then there are cowards with titles,” Rivera said, according to Florida Politics. “Orange-Osceola State Attorney Ayala is a coward with a title. In fact, it is our opinion that she is a bigger coward than the killer of pregnant Sade Dixon, and an honorable guardian angel of society, Orlando Lt. Debra Clayton.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) responded to Ayala’s announcement that she would not pursue the death penalty by removing her from the Loyd case and replacing her with Lake County State Attorney Brad King, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Ayala in turn accused Scott of “overstepping his bounds” and said she may file a legal challenge against her dismissal from the case.
“Giving the governor the tremendous and unfettered discretion to interfere with… decision making would be unprecedented and could undermine the entire justice system in Florida,” Ayala wrote. More than 100 legal experts, including two former Florida Supreme Court chief justices, four retired state Supreme Court justices, more than two dozen current or former state and federal prosecutors and approximately 90 law professors, published a letter on Monday expressing their concern over Scott’s removal of Ayala from the Loyd case, asserting the move “compromises the prosecutorial independence upon which the criminal justice system depends” and “compromises Floridians’ right to the services of their elected leaders.”
“Floridians in the Ninth Judicial Circuit elected State Attorney Ayala because she represents their local values and concerns,” the letter adds. “This action sets a dangerous precedent. The governor picking and choosing how criminal cases are prosecuted, charged or handled in local matters is troubling as a matter of policy and practice. Indeed, there appears to be no precedent in Florida for this type of use of power.”