Progressive Challenger Melba Pearson Files to Run Against Miami-Dade State Attorney

ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is set to challenge Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
ACLU Florida's former deputy director Melba Pearson (left) is set to challenge Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. Photos courtesy of Melba Pearson and Miami-Dade State State Attorney's Office
Melba Pearson — the former deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and former Miami-Dade County prosecutor of 16 years — today formally filed to run against longtime Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Pearson's campaign confirmed to New Times this afternoon.

Pearson was not immediately available to speak, but her pending candidacy has been a poorly kept secret in Miami-Dade political circles for months. In December, New Times reported that she had been privately telling allies she planned to run for office in 2020 and that her allies had formed a political action committee designed to support her candidacy.

Rundle, age 69, has won reelection continually since first taking office in 1993. In that time, she's been repeatedly whacked for slow-walking public corruption investigations and cases involving law enforcement officers. She was the subject of national scorn after she declined to charge four prison guards involved in the death of Darren Rainey, an inmate with schizophrenia who, according to witnesses, was severely scalded in a jury-rigged prison shower as punishment for defecating inside his cell.

Late last year, Rundle's office was hit with another wave of criticism after the Miami Herald reported that her office didn't bother to interview three of four alleged victims who said a Hialeah police officer, Sgt. Jessie Menocal Jr., had sexually assaulted them. One of them was 14 years old. Rundle's office, claiming the victims' stories would not hold up in court, closed the case. Menocal was allowed to continue patrolling the streets for years until the FBI arrested him over the same allegations in late 2019.

After that scandal broke, Pearson texted New Times to say she was appalled.

"I am horrified and disgusted at the fact that the voices of four victims were completely disregarded and that it took the FBI to try to bring some semblance of closure to these young women," Pearson told New Times last year. "This is a clear failure of the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. A change is desperately needed to ensure we finally have equal justice served in Miami-Dade."

In an email statement to New Times, Rundle said she looks forward "to a spirited campaign that embodies the very essence of our democracy — voter engagement and participation."

"Since the day I was sworn in as State Attorney, my promise has been to achieve justice for victims and prosecute those who do great harm to our residents," she wrote. "I remain steadfast in my same promise and intend to show how our office has achieved important progress grounded on data, proven strategies and an assurance that every family deserves to feel safe in our community."
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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.