By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Peter Antonacci, Gov. Ron DeSantis’s handpicked choice last year to lead the state’s controversial new elections fraud office, collapsed and died in a hallway in the governor’s office moments after “abruptly” leaving a contentious meeting on Sept. 23, 2022.
That Antonacci, 74, was stricken in the governor’s office was kept secret at the time. Instead, authorities only said he died while at work in the Capitol building, of which the governor’s office is a part.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records released to Florida Bulldog also say Antonacci lay dead or dying on the hallway floor of the governor’s office for more than 20 minutes before anyone apparently noticed and came to his aid. More precisely, 24 minutes, in a hallway under real time video-only surveillance.
By the time a Capitol police officer arrived a minute or two later and hooked the pulseless Antonacci up to an automated external defibrillator (AED), the machine that can administer a life-saving electrical shock to victims of sudden cardiac arrest assessed Antonacci and advised that “no shock” was needed.
The meeting Antonacci attended that day was in a conference room in the governor’s office. An FDLE report says the attendees were Secretary of State James “Cord” Byrd, his general counsel Bradley McVay, FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass, FDLE Chief of Staff Shane Desguin, FDLE director of executive investigations Scott McInerney, Antonacci’s deputy Scott Strauss and two men and three women tagged only as “unidentified.” Elsewhere, however, one attendee is identified as FDLE general counsel Ryan Newman.
The FDLE reports, which you read here, say that cameras in the meeting room and the hallway captured video of what happened, but no audio. Investigating FDLE Agent Larry Shallar watched the video. “At approximately 1:46 p.m., Mr. Antonacci is observed standing up and walking out of the conference room [WORDS REDACTED],” his report says. “Upon exiting the conference room, Mr. Antonacci is observed staggering as he moved forward until he collapsed to the floor. Mr. Antonacci did not appear to move once he collapsed to the floor.”
The meeting’s agenda and what was discussed are not mentioned in the five reports. DeSantis, with the Legislature’s approval, established the Office of Election Crimes and Security to maintain “election integrity” in the wake of ex-President Donald Trump’s drumbeat of unsupported claims that his 2020 loss to President Joe Biden was the result of voter fraud.
WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS
“At approximately 2:10 p.m. FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass is observed responding to Mr. Antonacci on the floor and initiated life saving measures (CPR; cardiopulmonary resuscitation) with the assistance of FDLE Chief of Staff Shane Desguin. At approximately 2:11 p.m. FDLE Capitol Police is observed responding to Mr. Antonacci with the AED (automated external defibrillator) and assisting with life saving measures until Leon County Emergency Medical Services arrived,” Shallar’s report says.
Florida Bulldog requested the FDLE’s public records in February after receiving a tip that Antonacci had died in the governor’s office following an argument with DeSantis. The FDLE reports, however, make no mention of DeSantis being present.
Detailed requests for public records about the meeting were also sent to Secretary of State James “Cord” Byrd, who attended the meeting and oversees the Office of Election Crimes and Security, and the governor’s Office of Open Government in October have yet to draw a substantive response.
The FDLE released 17 redacted pages. To justify the redactions, FDLE Assistant General Counsel Janine Robinson cited state laws that exempt from disclosure certain security and fire safety information, as well as the names of family of exempt personnel. The context of the redactions, however, did not plainly show how they qualified for exemptions. The redacted information appeared mostly to refer to the spot where Antonacci collapsed.
Security cameras video reviewed by investigating FDLE agents, and still photographs they took at the scene, were completely withheld. Robinson said they would not be made public because they are subject to the same security and fire safety exemption, or the privacy provisions of the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA).
COULD ANTONACCI HAVE BEEN SAVED?
Antonacci, who served as Broward’s Supervisor of Elections from 2018-2020, had a reputation as as political “Mr. Fix-It.” He was appointed by DeSantis in July 2022 as the state’s first director of the Office of Election Crimes and Security. Before that, he’d handled a range of political assignments under Republican and Democratic administrations. His peripatetic career included job titles like statewide prosecutor, deputy attorney general, CEO of Enterprise Florida, general counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, Palm Beach state attorney, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District and chief judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings.
While the FDLE reports include such mundane observations as how Antonacci was dressed –
“a sky blue shirt, dark blue dress coat, and gray dress pants” – they stand out for what’s missing: the identities of everyone attending the meeting and any inquiry as to why Antonacci lay undiscovered on the hallway floor for so long.
The immediate question: Could Antonacci have been saved by quicker action?
“Commissioner Glass stated they were talking there for approximately a minute or so and General Counsel Newman started to depart when he looked down the hallway toward the doorway going into the [WORDS REDACTED]. Commissioner Glass stated when looking down the hallway he observed what appeared to be dark slacks and black shoes laying on the ground toes face down…He stated he observed from the hip back and he looked at General Counsel Newman asking if that was Mr. Antonacci.” The two men then ran over to Antonacci, rolled him over on his left side “putting him in a breathing position to allow him to get maximum air” before rolling him on his back and starting chest compressions.
In an interview with FDLE investigators that day, FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass told how about 25 minutes after Antonacci departed the room he stepped into the hallway to talk with his general counsel, Ryan Newman.
When Antonacci fell he hit his forehead head on the corner of a door or a doorknob. There as a small, bleeding cut. Glass said Antonacci’s face “was purple and blue.” Glass checked for a pulse and found none, the report says.
FDLE CHIEF OF STAFF HEARD ‘THUD’
Glass yelled twice for Chief of Staff Desguin. Desguin told investigators that once he heard Glass “he knew at that point something was wrong based on Commissioner Glass’ tone of voice and due to him hearing a thud at some point.”
At first, the report says, Desguin “advised everyone to stay in the room because he didn’t know if Commissioner Glass was hurt or someone had breached the Governor’s Office.” He then “started to remove his duty firearm from its holster, but returned his duty firearm to its holster when he exited the door and observed Commissioner Glass on his knees over Mr. Antonacci.”
Desguin said his boss instructed him to “get 911” and an AED machine. He left the hallway and summoned help. Desguin told investigators: “The AED was applied and activated and advised it could not produce a shock.” Desguin and Glass rotated chest compressions for six to eight minutes, and initiated use of an “Ambu Bag,” or artificial manual breathing unit, until EMS arrived.
“Desguin stated during the meeting Mr. Antonacci had moments of being frustrated with parts of the meeting or the way the meeting was going,” the report says. But Desguin added that he observed no “signs of Mr. Antonacci having a medical issue.”
FDLE Director Scott McInerney told a similar story, saying an “agitated” Antonacci had “abruptly” risen from his seat and walked out. Agents, however, did not appear to bore down on the question as to why Antonacci became upset.
Like Desguin, McInerney unholstered his weapon after Glass call out, thinking there was possibly an active shooter.
“Director McInerney stated the room had approximately 10 to 15 people in it and they were giving them directions to stay back. (He) stated some of the individuals began to get under the conference room table.”
MEDICAL EXAMINER NOT CALLED
The FDLE reports caution that the report’s references to the statements of Glass, Desguin and McInerney were synopses. The FDLE did not release either transcripts or audio recordings of their interviews and gave no reason for that omission.
Antonacci was transported to Tallahassee Memorial Hospital where, at 2:47 p.m., he was pronounced dead by an emergency room physician identified in the report as Dr. Escobar.
The report says that Antonacci’s widow, Tallahassee lawyer Anne Longman, and his primary physician, Dr. Stacia Groll, stated that Antonacci “had a long history of heart disease and cardiac issues that resulted in several surgeries. Based on this medical history, Dr. Groll was willing and did sign off on the death certificate.”
Still, a Florida medical examiner who spoke with Florida Bulldog said that given the circumstances it was unusual that no autopsy was performed.
“I’m wondering why he didn’t go through the medical examiner’s office seeing that he died in the governor’s office. Wouldn’t they want to do that, just to CYA? I mean, gosh, [Gov. Lawton] Chiles died at the executive mansion and he went through the medical examiner’s office.”
Chiles died Dec. 12, 1998 after suffering a heart arrythmia, apparently while exercising.