BROOKSVILLE — When Cody Marrone admitted last week to burning a 3-year-old boy with a hair dryer as punishment for not letting him sleep, Marrone caught both his employer and the boy's mother, his girlfriend, by surprise.
Marrone, 21, started work last July as a detention deputy at the Hernando County Detention Center. He had worked there for a year before that as a control room operator, which is a civilian position.
Marrone started dating Meghan Sherron, also 21, about a year ago, and Sherron and her son moved into Marrone's Spring Hill home in November, said Sherron's attorney, Don Pumphrey of Tallahassee.
"The Cody she knew was kind, responsible and loving," Pumphrey said. "There was no indication of any anger issues or any reason to fear that he would do anything to hurt the child."
On Friday, Marrone's career and his relationship came to a grinding halt when he was booked into the county jail on charges of aggravated child abuse, a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison, and child neglect, also a felony. He posted $20,000 bail early Saturday morning.
Sheriff's Col. Mike Maurer said Tuesday he could meet with Marrone as early as today to discuss his future with the agency.
"It's appalling. That type of behavior is unacceptable for a human society and especially has no place in law enforcement," Maurer said. "Our job is to protect people who can't protect themselves. He's forfeited that trust with that child and with us."
Marrone's personnel file was not immediately available for review Tuesday, but he passed the required background checks, and Maurer said Marrone has not had any major disciplinary problems.
Marrone could not be reached by the Tampa Bay Times for comment Tuesday.
Sherron declined an interview request from the Times, but agreed to answer questions through her attorney.
A resident assistant at a local assisted living facility, Sherron left the boy with Marrone while she went to work Friday, as she had many times before, Pumphrey said. She got home from work and noticed his skin was red, blistered and festering in several places. She took him to Bayfront Health Spring Hill.
According to the Sheriff's Office, Marrone initially told deputies the child injured himself with the hair dryer while Marrone was sleeping. But investigators said the burns were clearly not accidental. Detectives said Marrone later admitted to using the dryer to burn the child on several parts of his body, including his genitals, to punish the boy for not letting him sleep.
The boy with light brown hair and big, dark-brown eyes suffered second-degree burns. He was released from the hospital Tuesday and will suffer permanent scarring. Doctors are still trying to determine whether he will live with other permanent injuries, Pumphrey said.
Carrie Proudfit, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Children and Families, said Sherron acted appropriately when she learned of her son's injuries.
Records show Marrone has a 4-year-old biological son with another woman. Proudfit said her agency is investigating to confirm that Marrone has not mistreated that boy.
"Given the allegations against him, understandably, there'd be some concern regarding how he cared for his own child," Proudfit said in an email. "We'll need assurance that the other child is okay."
Sherron is staying with a friend, Pumphrey said. She doesn't have insurance, though her son has Medicaid coverage.
According to a fundraising page she created, Sherron has had to take time off from work without pay.
"And most important of all, me and mainly my son are suffering trauma," she wrote on her page at gofundme.com. "I am reaching out to the community for help in this desperate time of need. God bless you all and please keep my son in your prayers."
By Tuesday afternoon, 61 donors had given a total of $1,520.
After he posted bail and was released from jail, Pumphrey said, a tearful Marrone called Sherron and apologized. Asked what Sherrone thought would be appropriate punishment if Marrone is found guilty, she offered a one-word response:
News researchers Carolyn Edds and Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1431. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.