Gov. Rick Scott reassigns KPD officer shootings case

by: Chip Skambis Updated:

ORLANDO, Fla. -  In an executive order issued Saturday evening, Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the prosecution of the man accused of shooting and killing two Kissimmee police officers from State Attorney Aramis Ayala. 

Scott said he removed Ayala from the prosecution of Everett Glenn Miller, 45, because she refuses to seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office. 

Read: Man charged with first-degree murder in Kissimmee officers shooting deaths

Kissimmee police Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Sam Howard were shot in a scuffle at about 9:30 p.m. Friday at Palmway and East Cypress streets near East Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway and North Main Street, Kissimmee Police Chief Jeff O’Dell said.

Timeline: Shootings of Kissimmee police officers

Baxter died of his injuries at the scene. Howard succumbed to his injuries at Osceola Regional Medical Center Saturday. 

Kissimmee police identified Miller as the suspect in the fatal shooting of the two police officers.

Read: Police: 2 Kissimmee police officers fatally shot

As with the other potentially capital cases from which the governor removed Ayala, Scott reassigned the case to state attorney Brad King. 

Read: Rick Scott’s, Aramis Ayala’s arguments over death penalty heard in Supreme Court

This marks the 25th case the governor has removed Ayala from as part of an ongoing feud between the two after Ayala said in March that she would not consider the death penalty in any prosecution by her office.

The governor's office issued the following release regarding the executive order: 

Today, Governor Rick Scott issued Executive Order 17-222 reassigning the case of Everette Glenn Miller from State Attorney Aramis Ayala to State Attorney Brad King. Everette Glenn Miller is accused of shooting and killing two Kissimmee police officers – Officer Matthew Baxter and Sgt. Richard “Sam” Howard. In March, State Attorney Ayala unilaterally decided to not seek the death penalty in any case prosecuted by her office. As Governor, Governor Scott has sole authority in Florida to reassign cases when he determines that the reassignment will serve in the interest of justice.

 

Governor Rick Scott said, “Last night’s violence against our law enforcement community is reprehensible and has no place in our state. In Florida, we have zero tolerance for violence and those who attack our law enforcement. Today, I am using my executive authority to reassign this case to State Attorney Brad King to ensure the victims of last night’s attack and their families receive the justice they deserve.”

 

Attorney General Pam Bondi said, “Two Florida police officers were brutally murdered and the victims’ families deserve a prosecutor who is willing to consider all sentences, including the death penalty - that is why the Governor and I agree the investigation and prosecution of this case must be reassigned.”

When asked for comment about being reassigned, Ayala told Channel 9 that her condolences are with the families of the fallen officers. 

"My reaction right now is strictly to the victims. That's it and we'll deal with the rest of it as it comes but again I focus and I think that community should be focused on the victims," said Ayala. 

Scott's power to strip Ayala of murder cases because she won't seek the death penalty was tested before the state Supreme Court in June. 

Ayala's lawyer asked the court to block Scott from assigning her then-24 murder cases to a neighboring prosecutor.

Read: Bondi files motion supporting Scott’s claims against Ayala

Read: Governor changed his view on meddling in cases, Ayala says

Justices heard arguments in the dispute that began in March when Channel 9 broke that Ayala wouldn't seek the death penalty against Markeith Loyd -- who is charged with the fatal shooting of Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton -- or any other death case.

Scott said he reassigned the cases to State Attorney Brad King because Ayala wasn't following Florida law. Ayala argues that Scott doesn't have the right to take the cases from her because she's independently elected.

Read: Ayala says Scott violated constitution by removing her from death penalty cases

Gov. Rick Scott in Lake Mary for “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour
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Read: Officials: Rep. Bob Cortes receives threat over Ayala stance

Ayala sued Scott, claiming that he abused his authority by reassigning the cases. Justices scrutinized her attorney's arguments.

"Your honor, respectfully, there is nothing in Florida law that requires State Attorney Ayala to seek the death penalty," Roy Austin, Ayala's attorney, said during the hearing.


Hear Ayala's attorney's reaction to the hearing below:


"This is not a question about seeking the death penalty," Justice R. Fred Lewis said. "This is a question of following the statute and applying the death penalty. You may end up with a death penalty and others not."

Austin said that Ayala had the authority to prosecute cases however she pleased.

Read: 9 Investigates: Emails show months of collaboration between Ayala, anti-death penalty groups

Read: Ayala calls budget cuts to office ‘political posturing'

He likened her decision to not seek the death penalty to other expensive cases in which prosecution is left up to a prosecutor's discretion, like fraudulent checks or small amounts of marijuana possession.

Austin said a win for Scott would be unprecedented because the state's highest office would have unfettered abilities to meddle with an independent justice system.

Read: 9 Investigates: Florida taxpayers foot bill for State Attorney Ayala's fight against death penalty


Watch the full hearing below:


The court will have to balance a desire to ensure that justice for murder suspects is consistent statewide with the need of keeping the governor in check.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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