Recently obtained police body camera video shows Tampa police officers arresting confused and stunned convicted felons for allegedly voting illegally in the 2020 election.
“I voted, but I did not commit fraud,” Romona Oliver can be heard saying on police body camera video obtained from the Tampa Police Department. “I walked out. The guy told me I was free and clear to go vote or whatever because I had done my time,” she told Oliver’s lawyer says she received a voter’s card and thought she had the right to vote.
The videos, first reported by the Tampa Bay Times, provide new insight into a massive state operation earlier this summer to crack down on alleged voter fraud.
On August 18, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had arrested 20 people on charges of illegally voting in the 2020 election. He disclosed the charges during a celebratory press conference at the Broward County Courthouse, where he was flanked by police officers and state Attorney General Ashley Moody.
“As convicted murderers and criminal sex offenders, none of the individuals were eligible to vote,” DeSantis said.
“They didn’t get their rights back, and yet they went ahead and voted anyway,” DeSantis said at the time. “It’s against the law, and now they’re going to pay the price.”
Mark Rankin, a Tampa-based attorney who represents Oliver pro bono, told CNN that Oliver served nearly 20 years in state prison for a second-degree murder conviction.
“She served her sentence and got out. And she got out when Amendment 4 was passed, which affected felons’ right to vote. His understanding was that the criminals had regained their rights.
Rankin says Oliver was approached at the bus stop one day on the way to work by someone registering voters, and she told them she was a criminal. The person then told Oliver that they could fill out the form and if they were eligible they would get a voter card and if they weren’t eligible they wouldn’t get the card.
Oliver received a voter registration card in the mail. She later went to the Department of Motor Vehicles office to get a new driver’s license and received an updated voter card with her new address, according to Rankin.
“Florida State and the local supervisor of elections told him twice, ‘Here’s your voter card. You are, as far as we are concerned, legally entitled to vote. And so she voted and she was shocked when she was arrested.
“She was shocked and upset because she thought her rights had been restored by the amendment. She didn’t know anything else. And the state of Florida, she believed, was telling her she had the right to vote. And now she’s had the rug pulled out from under her. She never would have voted if she knew she wasn’t eligible,” Rankin said.
Oliver has pleaded not guilty to the illegal voting charge and has a trial scheduled for December in Hillsborough County. County records show she was released on her own responsibility the same day she was arrested.
The Tampa Police Department made the arrests on behalf of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the agency behind the investigation, a police department spokesperson told CNN.
CNN also contacted the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, which was involved in some of the arrests.
The arrests marked the first public protest by the Florida Office of Election Crimes and Security, a controversial new investigative agency created this year and championed by DeSantis to investigate voting irregularities. Created under a sweeping bill passed this year to overhaul Florida’s vote, the bureau was given a staff of 15 to launch investigations and allowed DeSantis to assign 10 law enforcement officers to the state to help investigate election crimes.
But almost immediately after the state announced the charges, questions began to surface about the arrests and whether the individuals knew they were breaking the law when they voted.
According to state law, the Florida Department of State is responsible for “identifying registered voters who have been convicted of a felony” and “notifying the supervisor and providing a copy of supporting documentation.” indicating the voter’s potential ineligibility to be registered”.
In the five counties where there have been arrests, the local supervisor of the office of elections told CNN that the state did not inform those arrested that they were not eligible to vote.
DeSantis continued to defend the arrests and, at a later press conference, blamed some local election offices who, he said, “just don’t care about election laws.”
But the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security wrote a letter to an election supervisor saying the individuals voted illegally “through no fault of yours.” The letter, obtained by CNN, was sent Aug. 18 by Pete Antonacci, who served as the first director of the Bureau of Election Crimes and Security until his death Sept. 23 after a medical episode at the state Capitol. from Florida.
The arrests captured in police body camera footage also illustrate the confusion that still surrounds a successful 2018 Florida constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to some felons who had served their sentences.
The constitutional amendment, overwhelmingly approved by voters in a statewide referendum, said those convicted of murder and certain sex crimes were ineligible for reinstatement. rights.
But the law that implemented the constitutional amendment specified that an ineligible felon who votes in error is breaking the law if he “willfully submits false voter registration information.” State Senator Jeff Brandes, a Republican from St. Petersburg and the sponsor of this legislation, said on social media that most convicted felons have no intention of breaking the law.
After the Tampa Bay Times published the body camera video, Brandes tweeted from his verified account, “It sounds like the opposite of ‘willingly,'” and he suggested the state will have a hard time proving its case in court.
“I hope they have the courage to drop the charges or go to trial and produce evidence of willful intent,” Brandes wrote.