By Emily L. Mahoney and Justin Garcia

A nine-hour manhunt ensued after the death of Pinellas Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Hartwick.

Three helicopters hovered above as deputies with bloodhounds searched for the driver of a front-end loader that struck and killed Hartwick as he directed traffic the night of Sept. 22, 2022.

Hours later, one of the hounds detected the man they were seeking, hiding in brush: Juan Ariel Molina-Salles, a Honduran immigrant in the U.S. without legal authorization.

For Gov. Ron DeSantis, the tragedy justified his policies cracking down on illegal immigration.

“We just had a sheriff’s deputy from Pinellas County killed by a twice-deported illegal alien who came across the border illegally,” DeSantis said in a gubernatorial debate a month later. “I didn’t hear any outrage about that.”

Immediately after Hartwick’s death, DeSantis’ administration promisedto conductan internal review of its multimillion-dollar contract with the road-building company that employed Molina-Salles: Archer Western-de Moya Group Joint Venture.

About a year later, the Tampa Bay Times asked Florida’s Department of Transportation for all records pertaining to the state’s review, to see what the state had learned about how a man was hired to operate heavy machinery on a state road project even though he had no driver’s license and, according to law enforcement, used a Social Security number that didn’t belong to him.

Reporters got back two pages.

Read more.

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