TAMPA — Andrew Joseph III was more than a name. He was a kid who stood up for other kids when they were bullied. He was an athlete who competed in football, track and swimming. He was a neighbor who brought in people’s trash cans if they lingered at the curbside.
He came from a family of devout Catholics and had readied for his confirmation. The religious ceremony was set for the morning of Feb. 8, 2014. He died the night before.
His mother, Deanna Joseph, told a federal jury all these things Tuesday morning when she testified as the first witness in a lawsuit over her son’s death.
The boy was hit by a sport utility vehicle on Interstate 4 about two hours after Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies kicked him out of the Florida State Fair.
His parents have accused the sheriff and one deputy of setting into motion the events that led to the tragedy. Their lawyers have asked the jury to award $30 million to compensate for their loss.
From the witness stand, Deanna Joseph spoke slowly and softly. Her attorney, Guy Rubin, asked questions designed to convey what her life was like before her loss.
She’d grown up in Louisiana. She came from a close-knit family who instilled a belief in integrity and a righteous social order.
She was asked what she thought of police when she was growing up.
“Police were respected in our community,” she said. “They were our neighbors.”
She met her husband while they were both in college. They got married and had their son and a daughter. She earned a degree in social work and worked as an employment coach and for a cerebral palsy charity.
They lost their home and livelihood in Hurricane Katrina. They came to Florida to rebuild. They moved to a home in Riverview, near the Fish Hawk Ranch area. They liked it because it was safe.
Andrew Joseph was well-known among neighbors. He had many friends and was known for his humor, Deanna Joseph said.
“Andrew made more friends than we did,” she said. “Everyone knew Andrew before they knew us.”
He attended eighth grade at St. Stephens Catholic School. In the weeks before he died, he’d been checking his mailbox every day for a letter to see if he’d gotten accepted to Tampa Catholic High School.
Most of his friends went to public schools, where kids got free tickets to Student Day at the Florida State Fair.
His mother had read up on Student Day. She had no concerns about her son’s safety there.
He planned to go with a few other kids from the neighborhood. She knew them as “exceptional children” who came from good families.
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When a friend’s mom came by to take him and other kids to the Fair, Deanna Joseph exchanged phone numbers with her. It was chilly that night. She told him to go back inside to get his jacket.
She remembers watching them drive off. Then she went back inside to iron her son’s shirt and trousers. He planned to wear them to his confirmation.
Cpl. Mark Clark, a defendant in the lawsuit, also testified Tuesday. His voice a monotone, he gave short, concise answers to questions from Chris Anulewicz, one of the lawyers representing the Josephs.
He said he had no memory of detaining Joseph, but did not dispute that it was he who ejected him from the fair.
His job, he said, involved crowd control and security on the midway and the safety of the fair patrons. He’d worked the fair many times over 20 years, he said.
Did he treat kids and adults the same way? He was asked.
“I try to respect everybody.”
Clark made a distinction between arresting a person and simply detaining them.
Joseph was detained for what was described in a written report as “running through the mid-way causing disorderly conduct.” Had he been arrested, he would have been taken to a juvenile assessment center and released to an adult’s custody.
But since he was only detained, deputies drove him to the edge of the fairgrounds and let him go. He was one of several kids who were removed from the fair that night.
There was no requirement that kids ejected from the fair had to have their parents notified. That has since changed.
Although the Sheriff’s Office had prepared an “action plan” for how to handle security at the fair, Clark said he had not seen it. He didn’t believe other deputies had either.
He was asked about the procedures for ejecting people from the fair. Did he know that deputies were supposed to release people safely?
“I believe that’s part of it,” he said.