Osceola County deputy claims he's being punished for running for sheriff

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — An Osceola County deputy claims he's being punished with a suspension and the possibility of a demotion because he ran for sheriff.

Sgt. Marco Lopez said he's protected by free speech, but the Orange County Sheriff's Office claims his campaign violated department policy.

The sheriff's office is moving forward with the punishment, but it's likely not over yet.

Lopez has another appeal, which he plans to pursue.

He said although he lost his run for sheriff, he should not lose his promotion and a week of work

“Right now, what I think we need to do, is give this county a very good lesson on the First Amendment of the Constitution,” said attorney Daniel Perez.

Perez said Lopez is being unfairly punished for his run for Osceola County sheriff.

An internal investigation found he violated department policy by criticizing the sheriff's office on social media and posting a picture of himself in uniform on his campaign page.

He appealed that decision in a closed-door hearing on Wednesday and lost.

“I don't think they have merit for the decision they have taken against me. It had nothing to do with my duties,” Lopez said.

The 13-year deputy said the department is not as diverse as the community it serves, and a post on his political page warned of situations similar to the Ferguson, Missouri, riots and the Baltimore protests, which were racially motivated.

Lopez says he posted it a picture of himself in uniform on his personal Facebook page, not as a campaign tool, and that an administrator on his site might have shared it on his political page.

“When you run for political office, it gets busy. I have two Facebook pages. It’s hard to maintain all that when you're out campaigning every day,” Lopez said.

Sheriff Bob Hansell campaigned in uniform for Deputy Dave Sklarek who also lost his bid for sheriff.

That did not lead to any sanctions, nor did a picture of Sklarek in uniform.

The sheriff’s office would not comment because the case could go under more review in another appeal.

That could happen early next year, when a new sheriff takes over, who will also have the power to drop the case altogether.