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Florida prosecutor blamed an ‘entry-level’ staffer after a document surfaced from his office outlining harsher penalties for ‘Hispanic’ defendants

document with a golden pineapple pin on a bulletin boardA document instructs Jefferson County prosecutors to seek tougher penalties for “Hispanic” defendants.

Mackenzie Hayes

  • A Florida prosecutor has confirmed to Insider the authenticity of a document that outlined a racist policy in his office.
  • The document called for “Hispanic” defendants to receive stricter penalties for “No Valid Driver’s License.”
  • The prosecutor, Jack Campbell, blamed the document on a junior staffer who has been “reprimanded.”

Florida state attorney Jack Campbell said in an interview on Wednesday that an “entry-level” staffer is to blame for a document that outlined a racist policy displayed in a Northern Florida office. He claimed the staffer — who he would not identify — has since been disciplined after a photo was shared of the document that called for Hispanic defendants to receive stricter penalties for driving without a license.

On Monday, Our Tallahassee, a progressive news outlet, posted an interview with a former lawyer who worked for Campbell. In one office, according to a photograph shared by the lawyer, there was a document outlining the procedure for plea agreements for “No Valid Driver’s License.”

Defendants with “EXTENSIVE CRIMINAL HISTORY,” it said, “and/or HISPANIC,” should not be allowed to enter into a diversion program but instead be “adjudicated guilty” and forced to pay court costs.

The lawyer who shared a photo of the document, Mackenzie Hayes, said she took the photo this past January in Campbell’s Jefferson County office and was shocked that it was openly on display in what she described as an overwhelmingly white working environment where non-white defendants appeared to be treated differently.

Speaking to Our Tallahassee, she described her reaction: “Oh my god, they wrote down the racism policy.”

Campbell, in an interview with Insider, confirmed that the document is authentic but said it does not reflect the policy of his office. First elected in 2016, Campbell, is the state attorney for the 2nd Judicial District, making him the chief prosecutor for six counties in northern Florida. 

“It was written by an entry-level prosecutor who was trying to explain to his successor what the standard plea offers are. And he inappropriately and inaccurately wrote ‘Hispanic’ when he should have used the phrase ‘undocumented immigrant,'” Campbell said.

Cases involving undocumented people need to be handled differently, Campbell said, because prosecutors do not have access to their criminal records, and “we don’t know if we’ll ever see them again,” making them unsuitable for probation or diversion programs. “When we don’t know what their criminal history is, I have to take steps to understand what that is so that I can handle that consistently.”

As for conflating Latinos with undocumented immigrants, Campbell said that is “not a policy” and that the person who drafted the document has since “been disciplined.”

“I didn’t know the document existed. Now that I know, he’s been disciplined for writing that word,” Campbell said. He declined to detail the form of the reprimand.

Campbell also insisted that the prosecutor in question did not seek different punishments based on race or ethnicity.

“If I thought that he had, or any person here was actually giving different plea offers based on race, they would’ve been separated for that,” Campbell said. “He’s been disciplined for using an inartful word, specifically writing something inaccurate,” he said, which was “that ‘Hispanics’ should be [treated] different.”

Campbell insisted that the document does not reflect how cases were actually handled. But critics are asking him to prove it.

“How many Hispanic individuals have been more harshly charged solely due to their race, color, ethnicity, and national origin?” N.R. Hines, a criminal justice policy strategist at the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. The state attorney, she added, should “take immediate steps to ensure that any Hispanic person who was negatively impacted by this discriminatory practice have their case reconsidered.”

Hayes, who worked for Campbell as an assistant state attorney, left Florida in January and now works as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia. In an interview, she said that the problems she witnessed in northern Florida extended beyond any one piece of paper or problematic employee.

“What the document says reflected the culture of the office and it speaks for itself,” she told Insider.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

Read the original article on Business Insider