Florida sheriff accused of posting pic of teen’s dead body

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — A Florida prosecutor is calling for an investigation after a sheriff said a photo of a deceased person was accidentally posted to his social media account.

The State Attorney’s Office of the Ninth Judicial Circuit confirmed to Nexstar’s WFLA on Tuesday that it has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez for publishing “an investigative photo” online. However, a spokesman for the state attorney’s office said they could not confirm the contents of the photo nor could they comment on any active investigation.

The Orlando Sentinel, which received a copy of the photo, reported that it showed a body lying under a mound of brush. The photo was posted on Lopez’s personal Instagram page with other photos of a senior citizen event he held.

The photo allegedly showed the body of Madeline Soto, a 13-year-old that had been missing since late February after she didn’t show up to school. Soto’s body was found last week in Osceola County.

According to NBC affiliate WESH, the sheriff’s office sent a statement to local media apologizing for “any confusion or disturbance” for the post, saying “mistaken disclosures” were immediately corrected.

“On March 2, 2024, a post was made on social media about a community event for seniors. In the post, an investigative photo was accidentally included,” the sheriff’s office said.

WFLA has also reached out to the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) for independent comment in light of the state attorney’s request, as well as the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

According to Florida state law, a photo or recording that shows the killing of a minor cannot be released without the consent of the parent or surviving family. Violation of this law could result in a third-degree felony if it is done “willfully and knowingly,” the statute states.

Stephan Sterns, the boyfriend of Soto’s mother, was arrested last week after the sheriff’s office said  “disturbing images” were found on his phone. At the time, investigators said they considered Sterns, 37, a prime suspect in Soto’s disappearance, and accused him of sexually abusing the teenager for nearly two years.

He now faces two counts of sexual battery of a minor and counts of possession of child sexual abuse material. 

The Sentinel reports another agency official posted a separate photo — an apparent selfie in front of Sterns moments before he was placed in the back of a patrol car — on a personal Facebook page. That photo has also been deleted.

Southeast

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