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Traffic Stop is Just the Latest Moment in Spotlight for State Attorney Aramis Ayala

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FLORIDA — A viral traffic stop, an unexpected election win and a lawsuit against one of the most powerful lawmakers in her state. If you think Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala shies away from controversy, you haven’t been paying attention.

Earlier this week, dashcam video of an exchange between Ayala and Orlando police officers inspired both outrage and shrugs. Orlando Police and Ayala both concluded the traffic stop was lawful, but the officers’ explanation for why she was stopped — a check of her license plate came up empty, and her windows were “really dark,” — prompted some people to raise the question of racial profiling.

Ayala told CNN she wants to use the video “to have an open dialogue with the Chief of the Orlando Police Department” about how to maintain a “mutually respectful relationship between law enforcement and the community.”

Obviously the topics of race and law enforcement make a prime climate for controversy, but in her short tenure as State Attorney, and even before then, Ayala has not shied away from the storm.

She’s drawn a hard line on the death penalty

Ayala made headlines in June when she announced she would not seek the death penalty in any cases in her district. In a news conference, Ayala said Florida’s death penalty led to “chaos, uncertainty and turmoil” and “traps many victims, families in a decades-long cycle of uncertainty.”

After she announced her decision, Florida Governor Rick Scott removed her from the high-profile case of Markeith Loyd, a man accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend and an Orlando police officer. He also reassigned more than 20 other homicide cases to another prosecutor.

Scott and other Florida leaders, including the Orlando Police Chief and the president of the Orlando Fraternal Order of Police, criticized Ayala’s decision, saying ignoring the death penalty would be falling short of her duties as a prosecutor.

She sued Florida Governor Rick Scott

In response to Scott’s executive order removing her from more than 20 cases, Ayala sued Scott, saying it was up to the prosecutor in charge, and not the governor, to decide proper sentencing.

Lawyers representing Scott argued that state law doesn’t require prosecutors to seek the death penalty and such, while they are entitled not to, they shouldn’t make “a policy judgment that is blanket across the board.”

She’s spoken plainly about her husband’s criminal past

During her campaign for state attorney, a WFTV report brought up the subject of Ayala’s husband David’s criminal past. The station’s initial report contained errors and they later issued an apology and a correction, but it led Ayala to comment on her husband’s situation.

According to her campaign, David Ayala was convicted of drug conspiracy and counterfeiting checks and spent seven years in jail before being released in 2006, before he and Ayala met.

She has been outspoken about police violence and criminal justice reform

Ayala has used social media to speak out regarding high-profile cases of police violence. In July 2016, she said she was “shocked and saddened” by the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, calling their fates “a death sentence.”

A day later, after a shooting in Dallas that took the lives of five officers, she clarified her position:

“There is no contradiction in supporting law enforcement while also saying there are serious issues with the relationship between police and some of the communities they serve.”