Aramis Ayala

Aramis Ayala

Overview

* Served as State Attorney in Florida’s 9th Circuit from 2017-2021
* Supporter of Black Lives Matter
* Believes that American society and its criminal-justice system are infested with racism
* Is categorically opposed to the death penalty
* Likens “policing in Black communities” to “domestic violence”


Aramis Ayala was born on February 2, 1975 in Saginaw, Michigan. She cites the injustices against working-class families that she allegedly witnessed during her childhood as the factors that initially motivated her to pursue a career as an attorney.

After earning a BA degree in Political Science from the University of Michigan in 1997, Ayala enrolled at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. During her second year of law school, however, she was stricken by an aggressive form of lymphoma and was told at one point that she had less than 24 hours to live. Nevertheless, Ayala persevered and underwent more than a year of medical procedures and chemotherapy, eventually graduating with a J.D. degree from Detroit Mercy in 2001. She later received a Master of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida.

From 2002-2004, Ayala served as an Assistant Attorney in Central Florida, working in the Office of the State Attorney (SA) for the 10th Judicial Circuit. From 2004-2013, she was employed as a Public Defender in the nearby 9th Judicial Circuit, where she defended people charged with capital felonies. Starting in 2009, Ayala also taught some courses at the University of Central Florida and Florida A&M University. Moreover, she served as a Legal Analyst for the local Fox 35 Orlando television channel from 2012-2014. Ayala then returned to Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit’s Office of the State Attorney to work as an Assistant SA from 2014-2016.

In 2016, Ayala ran as a Democrat for the office of State Attorney in Florida’s 9th Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties. Her opponent in the Democratic primary was the then-incumbent SA, Jeff Ashton, who had garnered national attention for his prosecutorial involvement in the high-profile 2011 murder trial of Casey Anthony, a young single mother who was a suspect in the 2008 disappearance and death of her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee.

Ayala was a relatively unknown candidate until, beginning just weeks before the 2016 primary election, she received a sudden flood of financial support – to the tune of $1.3 million — from the leftist multibillionaire George Soros, who utilized his newly created Florida Safety and Justice PAC to fund a massive barrage of campaign ads accusing Ashton of racial discrimination. According to Influence Watch, Florida Safety and Justice is the “Florida branch of the vast ‘Safety and Justice’ network” which Soros has employed along with other “similarly named state-level PACs to finance the campaigns of progressive Democratic candidates for district attorney in more than a dozen of America’s cities.”

The Soros-funded ads on Ayala’s behalf ultimately overwhelmed Ashton’s campaign. In the Democratic primary that August, Ayala, who claimed to have never had any personal contact with Soros, won a major upset over Ashton, by a margin of 57% to 43%.

On the campaign trail ahead of the November 2016 general election for SA, Ayala issued various statements articulating her views about systemic racism and the need to reform the criminal justice system:

  • “Prosecution has been known as, ‘We have evidence, we proved their case, done…. The mindset of the people who just wanted more integrity, more transparency, more consistency, higher levels of justice, they opened their arms to my campaign.”
  • “The image of a prosecutor appears to be against people of color. We focus a lot on the person who’s committing the crime and his and her race versus looking at the person who the crime has been committed against. Most crime is not cross-racial…”
  • “There are black and brown people who receive disparate treatment the way that the law is set up, period.”

Ayala easily won the uncontested general election for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney in November 2016, and she was officially sworn in to office on January 1, 2017.

In March 2017, Ayala became embroiled in a legal dispute with Florida’s then-Governor, Republican Rick Scott, concerning a high-profile murder case. Citing her campaign pledge that she would not seek to apply the death penalty under any circumstances, Ayala declined to consider pursuing capital punishment for Markeith Loyd, a black defendant who had recently been arrested for murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer named Debra Clayton. When Ayala announced that the death penalty would not be an option in this case, Governor Scott immediately ordered her to recuse herself from any and all capital cases within her jurisdiction, but she defied his demand. This prompted Scott to appoint a special prosecutor, 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to replace Ayala in handling the Loyd case. Accusing Scott of having “overstepped his bounds,” Ayala argued that capital punishment “is not in the best interest of this community or the best interest of justice,” and that “the death penalty traps many victims’ families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty, court hearings, appeals and waiting.”

But Governor Scott’s actions against Ayala were not finished. In early April, he signed executive orders reassigning more than 20 additional homicide cases from Ayala to King. “State Attorney Ayala’s complete refusal to consider capital punishment for the entirety of her term sends an unacceptable message that she is not interested in considering every available option in the fight for justice,” Scott said at the time.

In June 2017, Ayala sued Governor Scott for having taken her off of the aforementioned capital cases. The Florida Supreme Court, however, ruled in August of that year that Scott had not abused his discretion by reassigning the cases. This decision prompted Ayala to make a small concession, stating that she would agree to pursue the death penalty in cases where such a course of action received unanimous approval from a team of assistant prosecutors.

Ayala’s anti-death penalty stance gained her praise from leftist organizations like the Florida ACLU, Amnesty International USA, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

In 2020, Ayala was removed from yet another murder case by a second Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, due to a public feud between Ayala and Osceola County sheriff Russ Gibson. Specifically, Gibson objected not only to Ayala’s anti-death-penalty stance, but also to how she was handling the prosecution of a case that involved the killing of a young woman named Nicole Montalvo by her estranged husband, Christopher Otero-Rivera, and his father, Angel Rivera.

Ayala made headlines as a result of an incident that occurred while she was driving her car on June 19, 2017 and was pulled over by two white officers of the Orlando Police Department. Her entire exchange with the officers was captured on police bodycam video, which the Department subsequently released to the public. When the clearly aggravated Ayala asked one of the officers to explain why he had pulled her over, he candidly explained that when he had run her license plate number, the computer did not ping back with a record showing the tag to be registered to any vehicle in particular. And when Ayala then asked why the officer had decided to run her plate in the first place, the officer explained that this was standard procedure at traffic lights to determine if they match up with the car in question: “Oh, we run tags through all the time, whether it’s a traffic light and that sort of stuff; that’s how we figure out if cars are stolen and that sort of thing.”  Not satisfied with the officer’s explanation, Ayala, perhaps to suggest that she planned to file a complaint, asked the officer to provide her with his ID number. The officer politely complied, writing his name for Ayala without complaint, and then said to her: “Have a good day.” In response to suggestions that there may have been a racial component to the traffic stop, the Orlando Police Department said in a statement: “As you can see in the video, the window tint was dark, and officers would not have been able to tell who, or how many people, were in the vehicle.”

During the first year of Ayala’s term as SA, 69 attorneys and staff members resigned from her office — about 18% of the office’s workforce. One of those attorneys, Rebecca Blechman, stated that the SA office had become “a miserable place to work” under Ayala.

In May 2018, Ayala announced that her office’s prosecutors would thenceforth stop requesting bail for individuals accused of misdemeanor crimes: “Economic bias has no place in our justice system…. By primarily relying on money, our bail system has created a poverty penalty that unjustifiably discriminates against those without resources to pay. Our focus must be on public safety, not on wealth.” According to Orlando Weekly, Ayala’s office would instead “recommend non-monetary release for people who don’t present a threat of violence or flight risk” – i.e., people accused of “low-level offenses” like possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana or drug paraphernalia, driving with a suspended license, driving without a valid license or vehicle registration, loitering, panhandling, disorderly conduct, or intoxication.

In late May 2019, Ayala announced that she would not seek re-election as SA in 2020. As she would later explain in an October 2020 interview, her decision was based entirely on her vehement personal opposition to capital punishment: “I’m not interested in killing people with my signature,” she said. “… I’m not interested in using my signature that the good Lord gave me, to justify starting the wheels of death. So that’s why I decided not to run [for re-election]. [The] courts said I had to; I’m not into it…. They said I had to consider killing people.”

In July 2020, it was reported that Ayala had compiled a list of 38 local “bad cops” — some of whom had retired or resigned from the police force — who, in Ayala’s estimation, lacked the credibility necessary to testify as witnesses in unresolved open cases.

In early October 2020, Ayala, in response to recent riots and demonstrations carried out by local Black Lives Matter activists and supporters in response to the May 2020 death of George Floyd, declared that her office would not prosecute any such individuals for “resisting an officer without violence, except under aggravating circumstances.” “This has been an entire summer where a lot of young people who have got involved in the movement have been arrested for protesting,” she explained, “and the things they were doing were not a reason for them to have that type of arrest.”

Later in October 2020, Ayala published an online BET piece in which she likened “policing in Black communities” to domestic violence:

“I’ve come to realize that policing in Black communities actually exhibits many patterns of behavior consistent with domestic violence. At the core of both problems are dysfunctional relationships driven by a struggle for power and control. And in both cases, perpetrators use mental and physical abuse to dominate and oppress their victims. These disturbing similarities reveal how badly broken these relationships are and suggest the need for fundamental changes in order to address this issue. […]

“The reality is that abuse is built into the policing of Black and brown neighborhoods across America, which means these communities exist in a constant state of tension building. Residents face emotional abuse in the form of routine harassment, with tactics including surveillance, unwarranted confrontations, and verbal attacks — all of which are similarly recognizable as aspects of domestic abuse. Police also frequently resort to excessive force; a form of physical abuse meant to intimidate and exert control…. Sufficient evidence exists to prove that many who [personally] have power and control issues find themselves working as police officers where the dominant culture of policing exacerbates and often justifies that dangerous, threatening and often violent mentality. […]

“And just as we see unfair questions about why victims of domestic violence don’t simply leave abusive relationships, in the aftermath of police violence, people regularly ask why a suspected person of color didn’t just comply [with police commands]. Yes, it’s possible that compliance may lead to a different outcome, but these decisions are complicated by trauma, fear, and past experiences. To insist that Black people simply surrender to a command, without considering the legality of the command, the context in which it was given, or the possibility that their life could be in jeopardy, is to remind Black folks of their inferiority and inhumanity. Retorts like ‘don’t break the law’ or ‘just follow orders’ therefore end up serving as little more than dog whistles meant to push Black Americans into accepting even the most blatant of injustices. […]

“To experience policing as a Black or brown person in America is to be intimately familiar with the terror of being in an abusive relationship.”

On the subject of George Floyd’s death, Ayala wrote in the same article:

“Perhaps the most obvious parallel between these forms of abuse is the habitual blaming of survivors for their own victimization. Through character assassination, apologists for abuse in either setting will often attempt to deny the abuse or argue that a victim deserved it or that their life somehow did not matter. The entire country watched for nearly nine minutes as George Floyd took his last breath calling out for his mother and uttering the words, I can’t breathe with a police officer’s knee in his neck as several other officers stood by. Then came the character assassination and questions about Mr. Floyd’s past and even suggestions that a possible drug overdose caused his death, not asphyxiation. Why are Black people blamed for their own victimization or even their own deaths in similar situations?”

In another October 2020 interview, Ayala lamented what she described as the systemic racism and brutality exhibited by police officers against African Americans and other nonwhite minorities in the U.S. “[During stops on] the street, there’s the harassment, there’s the abuse, there’s this lack of humanity and treatment, but then when they get found out they [falsely] act like it’s an isolated incident … the few bad apples.” “[I]n the era of mass incarceration,” she said, “we are perpetuating a culture that is dangerous to black people.”

Ayala’s tenure as SA officially ended in January 2021. Four months later, she announced her intent to run for the soon-to-be-vacated seat of outgoing Rep. Val Demings in Florida’s 10th Congressional District, a solid Democratic stronghold. On her campaign website, Ayala spelled out her objectives and beliefs vis-à-vis a wide array of key issues. Some examples, taken verbatim from the website:

Justice Reform

  • Demilitarize the police
  • Halt qualified immunity
  • Raise policing transparency with a national Brady List
  • Enact national de-escalation standards
  • End cash bail
  • Implement alternative sentencing programs
  • Provide medical treatment for mental health crises and addiction
  • Implement conviction integrity standards to prevent wrongful convictions
  • Abolish the death penalty
  • Restore civil rights to those formerly incarcerated
  • Ban The Box” from job, housing, and school applications so people with felony convictions can rebuild their lives.
  • Remedy multigenerational trauma through investment in social services
  • Pass life-saving gun violence prevention reforms
  • Safeguard the sacred right to vote so that every voice is heard [including the voices of prisoners and ex-convict felons]

Climate Justice

In Congress, I’ll fight to ensure:

  • Climate change and science are taken seriously
  • Corporate polluters are held accountable
  • Low-income [communities] and communities of color are no longer ignored or left behind in the environmental justice conversation

Healthcare

In Congress, I will fight to:

  • Pass Medicare For All
  • Make prescriptions affordable
  • Expand maternal healthcare
  • Defend reproductive freedom
  • Improve clinic access for underserved communities
  • End systemic racism and biases in medicine

Economic Opportunity

In Congress, I am committed to:

  • Raising the federal minimum wage to reflect current costs of living
  • Supporting organized labor and collective bargaining
  • Creating jobs with infrastructure improvements and climate-first initiatives

Education

In Congress, I’ll always:

  • Challenge efforts to defund and privatize public education
  • Eliminate police brutality and unjust punishment in schools
  • Extend public education from K-12 to K-14 with free community college
  • Forgive student loans

Affordable Housing

  • Redefine “affordable housing” to meet real-world needs
  • Increase low-income housing inventory and financial assistance
  • Crack down on abuses of federal funds that unfairly enrich developers
  • Enact harsh penalties for redlining and predatory lending
  • Back legislation that calls for mixed income developments
  • Close racial wealth gaps with financial support and credit restoration for first-time home buyers

Gun Violence

  • Pass Medicare For All
  • Expand mental health and social services
  • Increase available social services within schools and professional settings
  • Work with the majority of gun owners who support common sense regulations like universal background checks for firearms and ammunition purchases
  • Empower law enforcement to remove firearms from disqualified individuals
  • Support President Biden’s bid to allow gun victims to sue gunmakers
  • Ban civilian ownership of military-capacity weapons

Immigration

  • Stop imprisoning and separating families
  • Reunite families who have been torn apart
  • Define a path to citizenship for DACA recipients and immigrants
  • Develop economic inclusion programs …
  • Streamline the visa approval process for guest workers
  • End pretrial deportations
  • Stop disproportionate detention of poor people, including immigrants …
  • Provide in-state [college] tuition [rates] for immigrants and undocumented residents

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