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Civil rights advocacy group slams ‘school threat’ hype

FAIR says Lee County sheriff’s actions following charge against Cape Coral 10-year-old are ‘fake law and order’

By CJ HADDAD - | Jul 7, 2022

Sheriff Carmine Marceno

The family of a 10-year-old Cape Coral boy who was accused of making a written threat to his school over Memorial Day weekend has teamed up with a national non-profit to restore the child’s “reputation and prospects for the future.”

A fifth grader, who attends Patriot Elementary, was taken into custody by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office for allegedly making a written threat in relation to an upcoming school event.

The Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism (FAIR), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing civil rights and liberties, and promoting a common culture based on fairness, understanding and humanity, has reached out to the family and is offering assistance.

“(Lee County Sheriff Carmine) Marceno has been bragging to the press that he campaigned on a platform of ‘fake threat, real consequence,'” stated Bion Bartning, founder and president of FAIR. “But the reality is ‘fake law and order’ and real, permanent, harm for this innocent 10-year-old boy, who has been deprived of his First Amendment, Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment rights. We believe that in these dangerous times, no real threat should go unexamined. But in this case, the ‘threat’ was made up by an attention-seeking politician who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. Marceno shamelessly distributed to the world an unblurred mugshot and ‘perp walk’ video of a child to tout his campaign slogan and raise his own political profile. According to the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty, but this fundamental tenet was brazenly ignored by the Sheriff.”

The boy’s name is being withheld by The Breeze due to his age and the LCSO’s classification of the alleged threat as a “fake threat.”

The boy’s father, Dereck Marquez, told The Breeze his son never made a threat against his school or any individual. He was simply being a 10-year-old boy.

The incident started when the boy sent screenshots of a Google image search to a friend of money and a rifle, telling his friend he had “a bazillion dollars” and bought the guns. Marquez said the images were clearly not of something his son had tangible possession of, that you could see the Google image search bar in the photos sent, and that LCSO detectives at his home thought the same.

Marquez, a combat military veteran and Second Amendment supporter, said he does have legal firearms in his home, but said they are locked safely and not accessible by his son. Marquez said a reason why his son may have sent the messages in the first place is that being a gun owner, he often talks about how expensive firearms can be, and that his son would have insight into the high cost of firearms based on conversations with family and friends.

Law enforcement began its investigation due to the final text the boy later sent to his friend after they did not respond to the texts about the money or guns that had a “funny emoji” and read: “Get ready for Water Day.”

Water Day was an upcoming school event, something Marquez said his son was excited for. The father of the friend the boy was texting got concerned about the messages and contacted authorities.

“Initially, I was honestly confused,” Marquez said of when he realized his son was going to be taken into custody. “We had already established with the detectives at my house that my son had sent Google images and had told them he had (sent Google images and did not purchase guns).”

Marquez said he told LCSO detectives that firearms were present in his home, and when asked if they could be looked at, he would agree if it were part of the investigation,

Marquez said they looked at one another and said that if the boy sent Google images and the guns were safe and out of reach and locked up, there’s no point in going into the home. And they didn’t.

Marquez, under the impression the deputies could clearly see the incident as a child being foolish, thought things were finished until one of the detectives asked his son what Water Day was.

When his son told LCSO it was a school event on that Tuesday, Marquez said the boy was taken into custody for written threats.

“I was confused,” Marquez said. “We had already established that my son couldn’t get any guns. My son did not get ‘a bazillion’ dollars. And (LSCO) never not once asked anything of school or guns related. They just asked if Water Day was a school activity. My son said “yes, it’s on Tuesday.’ And that was enough. The conversation was not going in that direction and suddenly (LCSO) asked (one question) and that’s all it took. I was extremely baffled.”

The boy, who does not have a record of bad behavior and is an honor roll student and a Boy Scout, was taken into custody and sent to the juvenile detention center on Saturday, May 28. He did not return home until June 9, only because they thought he had COVID-19 (which turned out to be the flu).

The same day the boy was arrested, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page posted a video with a caption of the boy being walked out of the office and into a police car in handcuffs, not blurring his face. The post included the boy’s full name and date of birth, and quickly garnered national and worldwide attention.

A caption on the post credited to Marceno said: “This student’s behavior is sickening, especially after the recent tragedy in Uvalde, Texas. Making sure our children are safe is paramount. We will have law and order in our schools! My team didn’t hesitate one second…NOT ONE SECOND, to investigate this threat.

“Right now is not the time to act like a little delinquent. It’s not funny. This child made a fake threat, and now he’s experiencing real consequences.”

Marquez said he had no idea the post went on social media the evening his son was arrested. He learned of the video on Sunday morning before a court hearing concerning his son when his lawyer spoke to him about it.

“I looked at (the lawyer) and said, ‘Are you saying he did all of that before we even saw the judge?'” recalled Marquez. “I thought that was wrong. I was again shocked and confused. I thought you were innocent until proven guilty in the United States. Which also means you have your privacy, especially for a minor.

“I read what (Sheriff Marceno) wrote, and I’m thinking, ‘He hasn’t even seen the judge. How are you doing this without him seeing the judge?'”

Marceno went on national television program “Fox & Friends” on May 31, telling the anchor “there was a wad of cash, there was rifles with the texts, there were threats of ‘get ready.'”

Marquez said he was baffled when Marceno admitted to the Fox anchor that he had never interviewed his son when asked, “I’m sure you interviewed the kid, why did he do it?”

Marceno replied, “Ya know, I didn’t specifically talk to him. My detectives did.” Marceno did not give reason as to why the boy did anything.

When asked by the Fox about the age of the boy and perp-walking him, Marceno said, “I’m going to do it every single time. It’s consistent. My message is consistent no matter what age. If a 10-year-old, 12-year-old, 18-year-old presses a trigger, the aftermath is the same.”

Marquez said he listened to a radio interview with Marceno concerning his son’s situation, where he said Marceno “basically puts words in my son’s mouth — adult words. And then he’s like, ‘Yup. That’s what happened.'”

Marquez is also disturbed about the social media posts by LCSO regarding his son’s text messages. He says the images are cropped and not presented in their original form. He added that the sheriff’s office also doctored a picture to make it look like his son sent a close-up image of a gun with “Get ready for Water Day” as a caption when it was a completely separate message and not how the image was presented.

“They are not the original ones,” he said. “The original photos are zoomed out where you can clearly see the Google image search bar in the screenshot. The one that the sheriff is showing on his TikTok and other social media are all recreations to make it look worse than it is. The detectives that were here looked at the phone and saw it was an obvious Google search. I didn’t even have to explain it to them. He sent a screenshot of a Google search.”

Head the FAIR Legal Network, Letitia Kim, said her team is looking into potential legal action against the Sheriff’s Office. While Florida statutes can allow in certain instances law enforcement agencies to reveal the identity of a minor, she believes discretion should have been used on LCSO’s part.

“In this case I absolutely think that such discretion should have been exercised with adult sensibility and not released given the very young age of (the boy) and the nature of these absurd charges against him,” Kim said.

In regard to the perp walk video, Kim said that there is no Florida statute that would authorize the sheriff to video the juvenile and publish to the public as he did.

“We are keeping our options open with respect to any civil actions regarding privacy violations and the perp walk, as well as other violations of other civil rights,” Kim said.

Marquez said as a U.S. Army combat veteran infantryman, he understands the fact that investigations need to be thoroughly conducted when information comes in. But said Sheriff Marceno using his son to garner attention on social media and the way they word their posts is “sad.”

“(Law enforcement officers) are civil servants and are there to protect their constituents,” he said. “And unfortunately, I feel in this situation, with this sheriff, he was more worried about how to serve himself. He chose my son as a photo op and potentially a gateway to get into people’s homes so they can recognize his name because of what happened in Uvalde.

“It’s very sad when someone who is supposed to be a public servant, who is supposed to be there to serve and protect, does not want to use common sense but instead wants to use his position to better his stature.”

As far as his son’s current emotional wellbeing, Marquez said, “for the most part, he is OK,” but that he does have moments of insecurity.

Marquez said at times his son will randomly look at him and just say “I miss you” out of the blue. When he asks his son “Why? I’m right here?” the boy replies: “No not now, I missed you when I was in (the juvenile detention center).”

Marquez said this has been happening somewhat often, and that it’s hard to hear his son say those words. When he asks his son why he keeps saying “I miss you,” he tells Marquez he keeps thinking about the experience, sometimes with tears rolling down his cheek. He has even had night terrors where he comes into his father’s bed to be consoled, having to be reminded he is home and he is safe.

The boy is officially charged with Florida statue 836.10: a written threat to conduct a mass shooting or an act of terrorism; a second-degree felony.

“We’re working to restore (the boy’s) civil rights and ensure that this kind of unrestrained abuse of a child can never happen again,” Bartning continued. “Make no mistake, with Marceno in office, it could happen to any law-abiding family. He has proven that he’s unfit for the role of Lee County Sheriff.”

Marceno, who initially declined comment, said in a prepared statement received Saturday morning that it’s an issue of school safety.

“As the sheriff of Lee County, school safety is my top priority. Our youth services deputies and detectives do an amazing job to ensure the safety of our students and school staff. Any threats made, real or fake, will be immediately investigated and taken seriously,” Marceno stated.

The youth is next scheduled in court on July 11.

–Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comment from Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno.