The father of 10-year-old Florida boy accused of threatening to shoot up his school insists an overzealous sheriff falsely “crucified” his son for political gain in the wake of the Uvalde massacre.
Dereck Marquez blasted local law enforcement after his fifth-grade son, Daniel, was handcuffed on May 28 for allegedly threatening to carry out a mass shooting at Patriot Elementary School in Cape Coral.
“He basically just crucified my son because he wanted his own 15 minutes of fame after the Uvalde tragedy,” Marquez told The Post, referring to last month’s school shooting in Texas — and how his son was arrested four days later.
“He wanted to use that tragedy for his own political gain and I think that’s sick. That’s a sick thing to do as an adult who should know better.”
Marquez, a 35-year-old US Army veteran now working as a real estate agent, believes Lee County Sheriff Lee Marceno was seizing an opportunity to get his own face in front of cameras and give interviews to outlets worldwide.
“The sheriff saw a new story and saw the potential for using my son to get on the news as well,” Marquez said. “The second that he saw there could be a correlation or there could be something there, he took it and ran with it.”
Marceno, whose bills himself as “Florida’s Law and Order Sheriff,” defended his actions in a statement to The Post on Friday.
“As sheriff, the safety and security of our students and schools in Lee County has been my top priority,” he said. “We act immediately to investigate any and all threats against our students or schools.”
Deputies and detectives in Lee County enforce laws without “fear or favor,” Marceno continued.
“These highly trained professionals conducted, as they always do, a complete and thorough investigation that resulted in this arrest,” the sheriff said.
Marceno’s office posted video to Facebook in late May showing Daniel – clad in blue Crocs and camouflage jacket — being led to an awaiting police vehicle while handcuffed. Marceno at the time blasted the 4-foot-11, 103-pound boy as a “delinquent” while noting the slaughter in Uvalde just four days earlier.
“It’s not funny,” Marceno said in a May 28 statement. “This child made a fake threat, and now he’s experiencing real consequences.”
Daniel allegedly sent a friend a text message saying he “scammed” another buddy out of a large sum of money, along with a picture purporting to be the alleged cash, which was really just a Google stock image. Seconds later, Daniel said he “bought this” along with another Google image of “four AR style rifles,” according to an arrest report.
Daniel’s final message to his friend allegedly read, “Get ready for water day” – a reference to an upcoming school-sponsored event in which students participate in water activities.
Letitia Kim, director of the legal network at the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism, a New York-based nonprofit group supporting Marquez and Daniel, said the alleged threat was a “total fabrication.”
“The officers at the scene knew this was a Google stock image,” Kim told The Post on Friday. “They knew it was not a photograph that Daniel had personally taken of firearms in his possession. And if they had done any investigation, such as going into the house, they would have seen that Daniel had no access to firearms of any kind.”
Daniel’s father, meanwhile, took issue with Marceno releasing video of his son’s face prior to his initial appearance before a judge on a felony charge of making a written threat to conduct a mass shooting.
Marquez insisted Daniel — an honor roll student and three-year Boy Scout who had never been in trouble prior to his arrest – still doesn’t understand “why he got locked up for two pictures” sent to a friend.
Marquez said he “absolutely” believes nearly three weeks in a juvenile detention facility traumatized Daniel, whose school year ended last week. He’ll start sixth grade in the fall at a new school, and will likely soon start seeing a counselor, according to his dad.
“The whole experience was hard on him,” Marquez said. “It’s an experience for a child and it’s not a good one.”
The Boy Scouts of America have also sidelined Daniel since his well-publicized arrest, Marquez said.
“They’re still waiting on what the state will do,” he said.
Marquez has also received blowback from Daniel’s bust, including a stranger’s email he posted on Facebook.
“Your son is a menace,” the message read. “Maybe he doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation because he had a horrible upbringing. It’s not a political ploy, your son made threats and he has to face consequences.”
Prosecutors early Monday did not file charges against Daniel at his arraignment, which was rescheduled for July 11, his attorney Douglas Molloy told The Post. He had been expecting to learn whether prosecutors will be proceeding in the case against him, Kim said.
“We certainly would urge that this entire matter be dropped because there is no basis for any charges of any kind,” Kim said Friday.
Bion Bartning, FAIR’s president, said there was no justification for Monday’s delay.
“They did not file charges, but also did not drop the case — which means they still don’t need to turn over evidence for their false claims,” Bartning told The Post Monday. “This leaves an innocent 10-year-old boy under ‘house arrest,’ and his family in limbo, unnecessarily.”
Ahead of Monday’s brief court appearance, Marquez said his son’s arrest led to his face being “plastered all over social media.”
“My son has been falsely accused, and he’s completely innocent … My son could’ve been your son, it could’ve been your daughter,” Marquez told The Post. “Imagine how you’d feel.”