The Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida is investigating after a noose and several racist, threatening messages were sent to the office of a Black state prosecutor. The threats come after Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced her office would not pursue the death penalty in its cases — a decision that garnered Republican backlash.
Ayala received two envelopes with violent, racially charged messages. The first envelope, received on March 20, contained a message that said, "SOONER OR LATER A N****R WILL BE A N****R." Also enclosed were business cards with the message, "You are an Honorary Member of S.P.O.N.G.E." on one side and "Society for the Prevention of N****rs Getting Everything" on the other.
The envelope containing the noose was received on March 28. According to Orlando Weekly, it "contained an index card with a noose made of green twine taped to the card, according to the report."
Both envelopes were sent to Ayala's office in Orlando. The Sheriff's Office has not confirmed whether or not both envelopes were sent by the same person.
"[Ayala] was advised of the envelopes and their contents," according to the investigative report. "She believes that the hangman's noose was meant as a threat to her as a public official. She also believes that the envelope received on March 20, 2017, was a racial message and could be determined to be a hate crime."
Ayala is the first Black state attorney elected in Florida's history. She was elected in November after defeating incumbent Jeff Ashton in the Democratic primary.
Ayala made waves, notably from the Republican Party, on March 16 when she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any of her office's cases, including that of Markeith Loyd, who will stand trial for killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, as well as Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton.
Gov. Rick Scott (R) removed Ayala from the case the very same day.
"I am outraged and sickened by this loss of life and many families' lives have been forever changed because of these senseless murders," the governor said in a statement. "These families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Markeith Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served."
Scott also removed Ayala from the rest of the state's capital cases — nearly two dozen in total.
State Rep. Bob Cortes (R-Altamonte Springs) released a statement on Twitter just after Ayala's announcement slamming the prosecutor.
"I am outraged by the decision of State Attorney Aramis Ayala not to seek the death penalty in the case of Markeith Loyd," Cortes said. "This is a decision that should be arrived at by a jury of Markeith Loyd's peers, and to take it off the table is a slap in the face to his victims and to the wider law enforcement community."
Rep. Chris Sprowls (R), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he was looking into whether the prosecutor could be suspended for her decision.
"It is my opinion that she should absolutely be suspended, and that should then be forward to the Senate to confirm that removal," Sprowls told Capitol News Service.
"I think the real threat now is that you have one state attorney who is unwilling to follow the law or even consider it, which could lead to a real danger for the death penalty statute in its entirety."
More than 100 current and former lawyers, judges and law professors signed a letter to Scott saying the decision "exceeds your authority" and "sets a dangerous precedent."
"Your unprecedented order in this matter, which seeks to unilaterally relieve State Attonrey Ayala of her duties in a local prosecution, exceeds your executive authority and compromises the integrity and independence of the prosecutorial branch and function," the signers wrote.
The letter concludes, "Your removal of State Attorney Ayala is deeply concerning ot us, and should be to all Floridians. We urge you to reverse your decision to remove State Attorney Ayala from the Loyd prosecution."
Ayala filed a lawsuit against Scott for his decision in the Loyd case.
As a state prosecutor, Ayala wrote, she has "complete authority over charging and prosecuting decisions," and Scott can only intervene if he has "good and sufficient reasons."
"A 'good and sufficient reason,' therefore, must be something other than a disagreement over how I should exercise my discretion in a particular case," the prosecutor said in her filing.