OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — An Osceola County sheriff's sergeant will still be demoted, even though he claims he was retaliated against because he ran for sheriff.
An internal investigation determined Marcos Lopez violated department policy by posting on his campaign Facebook page, and Lopez appealed.
The board, made up of sheriff's office employees, decided to throw out Lopez’s one-week suspension, but it still found he violated three department policies and demoted him from sergeant to deputy.
"I think this is perfect example of the fox guarding the chicken coop,” said Lopez’s attorney, Dan Perez.
In the appeal hearing, internal affairs investigators said they believe Lopez violated department policy by criticizing the sheriff's office and posting a picture of himself in uniform on his campaign Facebook while running for sheriff.
Lopez and his campaign believe the department is not as diverse as the community it serves, and the Facebook posts reflected that view.
"How can you run for a governmental office if can't express the deficiencies of that public office?" said Ruben DeJesus, Lopez’s campaign manager.
DeJesus testified that he made 95 percent of the posts, not Lopez.
But even if Lopez had made the posts in question, his attorney believes his personal political statements are protected under the First Amendment and the Constitution should trump any department policy.
With Thursday's decision to uphold the violations against Lopez and demote him from sergeant to deputy, Lopez's attorney said they are planning to sue the sheriff's office.
"This was absolutely, number one, a political attack and number two, an attack on his First Amendment rights to express his point of view,” said Perez.
The sheriff's office said an appeals system in place is to make sure the disciplinary process is fair, but wouldn't comment on the planned lawsuit.
Lopez will be taking a $14,000 pay cut with the demotion
Cox Media Group