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DeSantis withheld records, retaliated against state police, ex-officials say

Lawrence Mower, Tampa Bay Times on

Published in News & Features

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top aides stopped the release of public records about his taxpayer-funded plane travel and retaliated against state police employees who disagreed with the decision, according to two former officials in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

In a sworn statement entered in court last week, former department chief of staff Shane Desguin alleges DeSantis officials stopped the release of about 600 records that would have revealed who traveled with the governor on the state plane and where it went.

The department denied the release, citing a new state law shielding the governor’s travel records, according to court records.

But Desguin, who was involved in crafting the legislation, said the governor’s office misinterpreted the law, which was intended to shield records that jeopardized the safety of the governor or his family.

Officials at the Department of Law Enforcement — the agency responsible for protecting the governor — said the records posed no risk to him, his family or anyone else, according to Desguin.

When he and other officials pushed back on the decision, one was denied a promotion, another was placed on leave and Desguin was forced to resign, he and his former deputy chief of staff alleged.

 

The statements were first reported by The Washington Post, which is suing in Leon County court to obtain the travel records. The statements were included in a filing by the Post last week.

Florida has a broad public records law that allows news outlets and the public to request information on state and local governments. The law is broader than what exists in many other states.

But since DeSantis took office in 2019, journalists and open government advocates have found that routine requests for public records take months or years to fulfill. Click Orlando reported last year that DeSantis’ office is requiring state agencies to send public records to the governor’s office for “review” before sending them to news outlets, a move that bogs down the process. The Times/Herald has had to involve the companies’ lawyers to get state agencies to respond to some requests for public records.

When The Washington Post requested records about DeSantis’ use of the state plane, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement initially told the paper the records would be released, according to Desguin. (Past administrations have released records on the use of state planes.)

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