Body camera footage reveals confusion over Gov. DeSantis’ voter fraud arrests

Author: Aaron Navarro / CBS
Tony Patterson arrested for voter fraud, Aug. 18, 2022, Tampa. SCREEN SHOT, TAMPA POLICE DEPARTMENT BODYCAM VIDEO

Several of those arrested as part of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “opening salvo” on his Office of Election Crimes and Security fraud appeared to have no idea why they were being arrested and seemed to be unaware that they were being accused of violating state law when they voted, according to police body camera footage shared with CBS News.

The footage was first reported by the Tampa Bay Times and was provided by the Tampa Police Department. It shows the arrests of three of the twenty people who allegedly broke the state’s election laws on felon voting rights: Tony Patterson, 43, Byron Leanord Smith, 65, and Romona Oliver, 55.

All are listed as residents of Tampa and were previously convicted of either murder or a sex offense. They all also voted in 2020, according to voting records provided by Hillsborough County.

In mid-August, DeSantis announced that his election police department had arrested 20 former convicts who had voted, despite the fact that their full voting rights had not been restored. He said that “Amendment 4,” a ballot measure that overwhelmingly passed in 2018 that restores voting rights to felons, did not apply to them because felons convicted of murder or a sex offense cannot vote, even if their sentence has been served.

But in the footage of the arrests on August 18, some officers could not explain why the suspects were being arrested, telling some only that they had committed voter fraud.

In the video of Patterson, a registered sex offender, he is told by one officer that he has a warrant out for his arrest because he had voted.

“What did I did wrong?” Patterson said.

“We don’t know — we’re just the case agents,” one officer said.

“Because of your sex offender status, you’re not supposed to be voting,” another officer explained.

“Voter fraud? Why are y’alls doing this now, when this happened years ago,” he asked. “Voter fraud? Y’all said anybody with a felony could vote, man.”

Later in the back of the cop car, Patterson said he was encouraged to register to vote by his brother.

“My brother told me to vote — to vote. I always listen to everybody else. Vote for this. Vote for — come on, man. I thought felons were able to vote. That’s why I signed a petition form; that’s what I remember,” he said. “Why would you let me vote if I wasn’t able to vote?” Patterson says.

The officer responds, “I’m not sure, buddy. I don’t know.”

“This happened years ago. Why now? Why me?” he asked after.

Patterson’s arrest record that day shows that he was released on Aug. 23, nearly five days after he was arrested and booked. Another record shows he was arrested again nearly one month later, on Sept. 15, for driving without a valid license. It shows he is currently in jail.

In Oliver’s arrest, when told by officers she has a warrant out for her arrest from the Florida Department for Law Enforcement for voter fraud, she let out an exasperated, “For what?”

“Oh my God,” she said. “I’m like — vote? I voted, but I didn’t commit no fraud.”

Officers were sympathetic to her confusion, saying they “understand” why she’s been caught off guard and told her she’d be released right after she gets booked.

“I don’t know exactly what happened with it, but you do have a warrant and that’s what it’s for,” the officer said.

“I’m like, what the hell,” Oliver said, to which another officer replied, “I know, I know.”

Later in the clip, while in the back of the cop car, Oliver is heard saying, “Do you think I would really commit fraud if I just got out of jail, three years ago?” The officer then responds, “Ma’am, I have no idea what even happened… all I know is that you have a warrant.”

Oliver spent 18 years in prison after she was convicted of a second-degree murder charge. According to her attorney, Mark Rankin, she had also registered to vote in February 2020 and updated her address in August 2020. She was given a voter ID card both times by Florida’s Department of State, which reports to DeSantis and handles the voter rolls.

Oliver was removed from the voter rolls in March, though according to Florida’s Department of State, she registered to vote as a Democrat as recently as May 24.

“Mrs. Oliver is not guilty and looks forward to her day in court. There is no room for political theater in the criminal justice system,” said Rankin.

Rankin said there has been a trial date set in December for Oliver and that they were provided with “copies of evidence” last week, which just included her voting records.

“There is no issue as to whether she voted. The only issue is whether she voted knowing that she was ineligible to vote. Nothing in the evidence even suggests her knowing commission of a criminal offense. She was charged and arrested without evidence to support commission of a crime. This was a purely political prosecution,” he said.

After Smith was arrested outside his home and put in a police car, the officer asked if he had voted. Smith responded, “Not this time. No. I can’t vote anymore, they took that right away from me.” He is a registered sex offender after being found guilty of having child pornography in 1997.

If convicted of voter fraud, defendants may be fined up to $5,000 and face a prison term of up to 5 years.

Cecile Scoon, president of the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Florida, said her organization is in the process of reaching out to help some of the lawyers representing those arrested and said there is “great concern” that the voters being targeted are low-income and don’t have access to their own lawyers.

Florida’s Department of State, as well as DeSantis’ office and campaign, have not yet responded to CBS News’ requests for comment.

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