Lee County Youth Services to ‘school’ Daniel Marquez’s father with no attorney and no media present

Author: CĂ©line McArthur Photographer: Abe Stewart
Published: Updated:

The Cape Coral boy arrested, perp-walked, locked up and then tried for sending a threatening text when he was 10 years old is serving his probation, and we’re investigating one of his court-ordered requirements.

Daniel Marquez was found guilty in juvenile court, but the judge decided to withhold the conviction, as long as the boy completes all the conditions of probation. That includes an appearance before what’s called the “Neighborhood Accountability Board.”

The family tells WINK News they don’t know what that is, who’s on it, or how it works. I find out as I continue our exclusive reporting of Daniel’s journey through the Lee County juvenile justice system.

Daniel Marquez wasted no time checking off a big assignment on his probation to-do list.

“What is a school threat and what have I learned from this situation, by Daniel Marquez,” said Daniel.

This 500-word court-ordered essay isn’t due until October, but he wanted it off his plate since 7th grade is in session. His father Dereck Marquez maintains Daniel’s innocence, but appreciates the value of researching and writing this report.

“It’s an opportunity for Daniel to understand the law, especially since it’s what caused this whole thing to begin,” said Dereck.

What father and son don’t understand is what comes next. The Neighborhood Accountability Board, also known as NAB, was not explained to them at his August 4th sentencing.

“We’re just requesting that as a condition of probation that you successfully complete the Neighborhood Accountability Board, as these are the services the state wanted you to gain the benefit from,” said Prosecutor Scott Miller.

It’s also not spelled out in Daniel’s probation paperwork. I reached out to Nora Donato-Hitchcock, Youth Services Coordinator to learn more.

No response.

I went up the chain to Roger Mercado, director of Human and Veteran Services.

Roger Mercado, director of Lee County Human and Veteran Services

No Response.

Betsy Clayton, Lee County’s director of communications

Betsy Clayton, Lee County communications director, refused to let me talk to any employee involved in the program. Her office did send me this email, with a brief description of the program.

“The Neighborhood Accountability Boards, based on the principles of restorative justice, address the harm that was caused, who was harmed, how they were harmed and what needs to be done to repair the harm… Volunteers are trained in principles of restorative justice and they build a case plan outlining the tasks the participating youth will engage in as part of the restorative process.”

That statement raises more questions than answers, so I keep digging. I discovered the NAB is based on a Florida statute called Neighborhood Restorative Justice. It says the five-member volunteer board is created by the state attorney. Volunteers apply, and then two are appointed by the state attorney, two by the public defender and one by the chief judge of the circuit.

I asked Lee County for an updated list of volunteers. 29 names with no details about their relevant background or who appointed who.

What does it take to be a Neighborhood Accountability Board volunteer? Here’s what I found on the Lee County website.

According to the statute, Daniel must also, “take responsibility for the actions which led to the current accusation,” or in Daniel’s case, his verdict. That means, to complete probation, he would have to admit he sent a friend an electronic threat to conduct a mass shooting or act of terrorism when he was 10-years-old.

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said Daniel. “It was just a joke saying I scammed someone for a lot of money.”

Dereck says his son’s innocence, and Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno’s social media campaign, are why they didn’t accept a plea deal after the arrest and are appealing the verdict.

“If we would have taken diversion, I feel like it would have justified the perp walk and his name being posted, his birthday being posted, his mug shot being posted, we would have just given justification to all of these actions,” said Dereck.

The first NAB meeting with Daniel and his father was scheduled for Saturday August 19th at Northwest Regional Library in Cape Coral.

When Dereck told Youth Services Coordinator Nora Donato-Hitchcock he wanted WINK News at the meeting, she sent this text that says in part, “If I see media when I get there, I will not stay. And I am obligated to report on probation. Updates on what is going on with this sanction.”

Text from Youth Services Coordinator Nora Donato-Hitchcock to Dereck Marquez.

16 hours before that meeting was supposed to take place, Donato-Hitchcock cancelled without explanation. Dereck says he felt he was threatened—bring the media, and your son is going back to court for somehow violating probation.

“I just felt like they’re trying to hide something,” Dereck said. “If no one’s there to witness it, then it’s my word against theirs.”

Donato-Hitchcock appeared to share her opinion on this case on social media.

We found this August 12th post on her public Facebook page where she identifies herself as a Lee County government employee. She writes how she’s taking on a case where she will “school this parent on how restorative justice is not a punitive program.” She added the parent, “has a lot to learn. There will be no media, there will be no attorney.”

Dereck explains why he believes this post is about them.

“I told the original person that called me that I wanted the media and the attorney there. That happened on August 11th. This post is dated August 12th and it says yesterday.” He added, “I feel that with this post, she is saying that she has authority over my son and over me to the point where she’s going to teach me a lesson and explain how the system works in her eyes.”

Fort Myers Criminal Defense Attorney Brian Edwards is not involved in Daniel’s case, but I asked him to weigh in. He says Daniel’s NAB probation requirement is highly unusual.

Brian Edwards, Fort Myers criminal defense attorney

“I’ve never had anybody sentenced essentially to diversion after a trial,” Edwards said.

He admits it’s concerning that, under this statute, the boy can’t have a lawyer with him when he goes before the board, especially since the appointed volunteers could be lawyers themselves.

“He doesn’t have anybody to turn to, to go, ‘Should I do this? Should I do that?’ So certainly, the way the law is set up makes it more difficult on the younger juveniles, especially,” Edwards said. “I’d probably call the Florida Bar to be honest, to say, ‘Here’s my scenario, what do I do?'”

“I think Daniel is the victim, if I’m being completely honest.” Caryn Depasquale, Sunshine State Counseling Center

Caryn Depasquale with Sunshine State Counseling Center. She works with children who’ve been through traumatic experiences.

Caryn Depasquale, Sunshine State Counseling Center

I asked her to sit in during my first sit-down interview with Daniel more than a year ago, and she’s been treating him ever since. Daniel and his father gave me permission to speak with her. She describes how Daniel has changed.
In summer of 2022…

The Marquez family, June 2022

“Your typical child, you know, he liked to play with his Rubik’s Cube, he liked playing games,” said Depasquale. “He’s just, he’s a child.”

And now, following Daniel’s arrest and perp walk that made national and international headlines, lock up in juvenile detention, months of court appearances, trial and ultimately condemnation by Judge Carolyn Swift at his July 7th trial, Depasquale describes him differently.

“I’m watching him become basically a former shell of himself. It sounds like he’s afraid to talk because he’s going to say the wrong thing, because, in my opinion, he’s been re-traumatized over and over and over again, and it shows on his face,” said Depasquale.

“This is abuse, no matter whether they want to call it abuse or not. This is emotional abuse, which is often the hardest kind to prove, because there are no physical scars, but I see it,” said Depasquale.

She’s concerned about the way Daniel and Dereck—and Iraqi War Veteran with PTSD—are being treated during the probation process.

“I think things were left vague on purpose, because I think they wanted the wiggle room to be able to keep making an example of this child,” said Depasquale.

Depasquale says the Neighborhood Accountability Board must be far more transparent to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of children and their families in Lee County, especially when those families request media to bear witness.

“If this is something good, and if this is something that’s going to teach a lesson, they should want you there. You know what I mean? They should want you there so that they can see that the justice system does work,” said Depasquale.

“Well, it is sad, but to make change, you only need one person to make a difference,” said Dereck. “And I think that although this is not an ideal situation for any of us. I figured why not? Start by taking a stance.”

Donato-Hitchcock has not responded to multiple requests for comment. Daniel’s next NAB meeting was rescheduled for the end of August in Donato-Hitchcock’s office—which unlike the library—isn’t a public space.

You know I’ll stay on this story.

You can reach me at celine.mcarthur@winknews.com

Catch up on this 20-part series here!

  1. Exclusive: 10-year-old arrested, accused of threatening mass school shooting speaks out
  2. Cape Coral 10-year-old accused of threatening a mass shooting officially charged
  3. 10-year-old accused of mass shooting threat declines plea deal, says not guilty
  4. Alan Dershowitz gives case analysis of SWFL 10-year-old accused of threatening mass shooting
  5. Law enforcement weighs in on 10-year-old accused of threatening mass shooting
  6. ‘She should be euthanized’; Experts weigh in on Lee sheriff’s commentary on suspects
  7. Family of 10-year-old charged with mass shooting threat requests DOJ investigation into LCSO
  8. Police recordings released for 10-year-old Daniel Marquez, accused of school shooting threat
  9. More twists: Lawyer quits Daniel Marquez case; new text messages revealed
  10. ‘An attempt to go viral’ Daniel Marquez’s attorney questions Lee Sheriff’s motive
  11. Could Sheriff Carmine Marceno be charged under Florida statute used to arrest Daniel Marquez?
  12. Inappropriate vs. Threat: New twist in battle over Florida law following 10-year-old’s arrest by Lee County Sheriff’s Office
  13. EXCLUSIVE: Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputy explains arrest of Cape Coral 10-year-old under oath
  14. EXCLUSIVE: 10-year-old Cape Coral boy accused of making school threat headed to trial
  15. U.S. Supreme Court decision impact on case against Lee County 10-year-old accused of violent threat
  16. SCOTUS increasing ‘true threat’ burden of proof to convict could impact Lee County 10-year-old’s trial
  17. EXCLUSIVE: Did Lee County Schools fail to investigate possible threat before 10-year-old’s arrest?
  18. Court finds Cape Coral boy made school threat via text
  19. Prosecutor in Daniel Marquez school threat case tries to punish father for TikTok video

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