OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — For the first time since his arrest for impersonating an officer and being suspended from his seat on the Osceola County Commission, Fred Hawkins publicly addressed his charges and answered questions about why he’s still running for a seat in the Florida Legislature.
It comes as investigative reporter Karla Ray learned his current suspension from office would not apply to a new position if he wins the District 42 House seat, according to the governor’s office.
While debating two of the three other Republicans seeking the District 42 House seat in Tallahassee, Hawkins tried to stay on topic but was eventually forced back to the Turnberry Reserve HOA meeting last November, where FDLE now says he impersonated an officer.
Hawkins showed a special deputy badge, issued by Sheriff Russ Gibson, while he tried to enter the HOA election meeting. He was heard on camera saying he is with the sheriff, before telling a security guard she was about to be arrested.
“We cannot have individuals walking around representing themselves with a false Sheriff’s badge,” fellow Republican challenger Dianna Liebnitzky said about 90 minutes into the debate Saturday.
Hawkins no longer has the special deputy badge and was suspended from the Osceola Commission after his arrest. This is the first time he’s addressed the arrest in public.
“I was trying to get the deputy inside to come out and fix the situation that he had warned the security guard about, putting her hands on people and restricting access,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins implied the investigation and charges are politically motivated. He’s raised over $215,000 in his race to represent portions of Polk and Osceola counties in Tallahassee.
He raised more than six times the amount of the other Republican candidates combined.
FDLE won’t say who initiated the complaint that prompted the agency’s investigation.
“It’s the fourth quarter of this game. You’re seeing the ‘Hail Marys’ coming because you’re running behind. That’s exactly what’s happening,” Hawkins said.
Hawkins claimed in the debate that Gov. Ron DeSantis promised to reinstate him to the commission if his charges are dropped, but his trial date is set for after the November election.
“You cannot guarantee the outcome of the situation. You cannot guarantee to the voters that you will be acquitted and ready to serve,” fellow Republican challenger Benny Valentin said.
Hawkins was adamant the case will wrap up and that he deserves the party’s vote in Tuesday’s primary.
“We’re going to have the charges dismissed,” Hawkins said. “When I saw something going wrong with an election, which the Department of Business and Professional Regulation has now said was fraudulent and fixed, I stood up for these people.”
The governor’s office said Hawkins’ suspension would not apply to a new position. It’s unclear if another suspension would be issued under a new political position before the criminal case could run its course.
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