‘She should be euthanized’; Experts weigh in on Lee sheriff’s commentary on suspects

Published: July 14, 2022 6:43 PM EDT
Updated: July 15, 2022 10:27 AM EDT

Lee County’s top sheriff is tough on crime. Watch any of his news conferences and you can see that. He often has harsh words for people he arrests.

As an elected leader—with a badge and gun—Marceno’s words carry substantial weight and responsibility.

WINK News Investigative Reporter Celine McArthur explores why words and the resulting actions matter on television and social media.

Sheriff Carmine Marceno speaks his mind about crime, in press conferences and pre-produced videos on Facebook, TikTok or Twitter.

“Law and order always. and the safety and security of my residents,” Marceno said. “I ain’t playing games.”

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. (Credit: LCSO)

And it’s not uncommon to hear Marceno call out people he’s arrested live on TV or social media.

“These people aren’t human beings.”
“He’s a loser.”
“We got trash off the streets today. He’s an oxygen stealer.”
“He’s an oxygen stealer and he doesn’t deserve to breathe the fresh air.”

In late April, he announced the arrest of a Fort Myers woman charged with animal abuse and revealed what he thinks should happen to the accused.

“This oxygen stealer, this pile of trash went to the Marceno Motel, but let’s talk real. She should be euthanized,” Marceno said.

Euthanized. By definition: put to death humanely.

Professor Joseph Uscinski. (Credit: WINK News)

“So, for a sheriff to come out and say, we’re really going to stick it to these people, and we’re going to treat them the worst way possible, or at least that he would like to treat them the worst way possible and violate the constitutional rights for a lot of people. That rings very true. They’re saying, yeah, get that person. We want vengeance because they violated our codes of ethical behavior and conduct.”

Professor Joseph Uscinski is with the University of Miami. One of his areas of expertise is political psychology. He doesn’t know Marceno, but watched some of his videos. Uscinski says Marceno could be using what’s called a sacred rhetoric strategy.

“It’s very easy to do tough talk when the criminals are engaging in animal abuse or child abuse or something where everyone’s agreed that the crime is really bad, or perhaps beyond redemption. If he said he wanted to violate the Constitutional rights of jaywalkers, that would be a bigger problem, because no one’s going to get behind that,” Uscinski said.

“When I first heard that I instantly thought about dehumanization language,” said Neil Volz, deputy director of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno. (Credit: LCSO)

Volz is a convicted felon who now advocates for people who’ve gone through the criminal justice system. He worries about the potential impact Marceno’s language has on the community as a whole.

Neil Volz, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition.

“Words shape our culture,” Volz said. “Words create language that creates the culture that our community and our society abide by, and if we lose track of the fact that we’re all human beings, operate in the same community together, I think that leads to policies that are not good for public safety.”

One of Marceno’s most controversial social media posts is the May 28 Facebook post of the perp walk of a 10-year-old charged with threatening a mass shooting at his Cape Coral elementary school. Marceno’s caption: “This student’s behavior is sickening.” The post got media attention around the world.

Some encouraging.

Steve Doocy on Fox and Friends in May 2022: “Sheriff, what’s going on with our kids?”

Some critical.

“What he did exceeded his authority as Sheriff,” said Alan Dershowitz, Civil Rights Attorney.

Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno makes an appearance on Fox and Friends to talk about the arrest of a 10-year-old. (Credit: Fox and Friends)

Dershowitz reacts to Marceno’s TikTok video with Daniel Marquez’s mug shot edited to the AC/DC song, “Shoot to Thrill.” The Lee County Sheriff’s Office posted that video 12 days after the boy’s arrest.

“I don’t know whether or not one can say it rises to the level of crime, but it seems likely it rises to the level of civil liability, and is certainly morally and ethically wrong,” Dershowitz said.

“I just think he’s setting a very bad precedent with the way that he’s approaching things,” said Caryn DePasquale, a mental health expert who specializes in treating childhood trauma.

“He’s not taking due process of law, and I mean, is he saying that every single person that you arrest is guilty? Has he gone to every trial for every person that’s been arrested in Lee County? You know, and oxygen stealers? I mean, that’s disgusting,” DePasquale explained.

Sheriff Carmine Marceno during an interview with Celine McArthur. (CREDIT: WINK News)

She’s worried about the impact Marceno’s spotlight will have on Daniel. “The sheriff wants him portrayed as some monster,” DePasquale added. “You know, maybe he doesn’t have the concept of what of a 10-year-old is supposed to be like.”

And what happens if Daniel is ultimately found not guilty? We asked Marceno in our one-on-one interview in June.

MCARTHUR: “What if he’s proven innocent? What if the charges are dropped?”
MARCENO: “Well, then publicly…”
MCARTHUR: “What if the detectives were wrong? What if you were wrong?
MARCENO: “Well, I’ll tell you this, they did a thorough investigation. Well, I’m not going to be wrong going with what I feel.”

Right or wrong, Uscinski says elected leaders need to understand the risk of using sacred rhetoric.

“It only takes one person to hear violent rhetoric coming from our government, to go out and say, well, I’m going to fight fire with fire. I’m going to take action where perhaps the government has not, because they told me there’s a problem and they told me that violent action is okay, that violating constitutional rights is good. And someone may wind up doing that. We saw that on January 6th,” says Uscinski.

WINK News reached out to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to find out why Sheriff Marceno makes those controversial comments. LCSO emailed a response saying, “We respectfully decline.”

In the meantime, Daniel’s family is getting ready for their August 3 court appearance.

You can see more coverage on this case here: