ORLANDO — It started with a series of postings on a popular social media site, that exploded into controversy with a Mother’s Day posting about “crack hoes.”
On May 11, Kenneth Lewis wrote on his Facebook page, “Happy Mother’s Day to all the crack hoes out there. It’s never too late to turn it around, tie your tubes, clean up your life and make a difference to someone out there that deserves a better mother.”
The fact that Lewis wrote and published this on the social media site got even more controversial when it became known that he is a prosecutor in the Office of the State Attorney, 9th Judicial Court.
It was also widely noted that his boss, State Attorney Jeff Ashton, is a Democrat.
Ashton held a press conference on Thursday to say he found Lewis’ postings personally offensive but believed he had a free speech right to post whatever he believes.
Lewis, an assistant state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties, apologized during the press conference, saying he used a “poor choice of words” in referring to drug addicts as “crack hoes,”and said his postings would not impact his ability to be an impartial prosecutor.
But that wasn’t enough for the attorneys at the Florida Civil Rights Association, which on Friday officially urged Ashton to fire Lewis.
In fact, Attorney Kyan Ware, spokesman for the FCRA, said the issue went well beyond simply Lewis’ offensive Facebook comments. Ware said it was also very disconcerting to the African American and Latino communities in Central Florida that Ashton would continue to employ Lewis, who is white, at a time when the State Attorney’s office has a limited number of black and latino prosecutors.
FCRA President J. Willie David, III said Ashton “should have fired Assistant State Attorney Kenneth Lewis on the spot over his distasteful Facebook posts. The implementation of a social-media policy to protect the integrity and smooth operation of the State Attorney’s Office should be a top priority.”
Keeping Lewis, David added, would erode the public’s trust in the State Attorney’s office, especially with communities of color.
David also cited a “lack of diversity” in Ashton’s office when it comes to hiring Hispanics and African Americans as top managers.
As far as claims of potential bias, David referred to a specific case: Lewis’ prosecution in 2006 of former state Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando Democrat who is black and represented a predominantly African American and Latino district. Lewis successfully prosecuted Siplin for grand theft, although the conviction got overturned by the Fifth District appeals court.
In 2007, David noted, Lewis “expressed his outraged over how the Florida Department of Corrections provided special treatment to Senator Siplin when they released him for alleged violation of probation.”
As a result, the Florida Civil Rights Association issued a statement noting that it was “deeply concerned that defendants will not be treated fairly by prosecutor Lewis because of their race, or drug addictions. In addition, Lewis’ behavior could be grounds for criminal defendant attorneys seeking appeals for their clients prosecuted by Lewis. This means that hundreds of criminal cases could be overturned.”
David was particularly critical of the “crack hoes” posting, writing, “His comments makes light of addiction. He assumes that no drug addict mother has ever been raped. Some women are raped in exchanged for drugs. Finally, Lewis comment fails to address the real issue — which is that the drug laws criminalize addiction.”
Contact Freeline Media at Freelineorlando@gmail.com..