Florida State Fair security probed in trial over Hillsborough teen’s death

A lawyer for the family of Andrew Joseph III questioned a former sheriff’s detention procedures the night the boy was kicked out of the fair.
A small billboard with an image of Andrew Joseph III is placed within a group of protestors outside the Florida State Fair in 2015 in Tampa. Joseph III was killed as he attempted to cross Interstate 4 after being kicked out of the 2014 Florida State Fair.
A small billboard with an image of Andrew Joseph III is placed within a group of protestors outside the Florida State Fair in 2015 in Tampa. Joseph III was killed as he attempted to cross Interstate 4 after being kicked out of the 2014 Florida State Fair. [ Times (2015) ]
Published Sept. 14, 2022|Updated Sept. 15, 2022

TAMPA — On the third day of a federal trial over the death of 14-year-old Andrew Joseph III, who was killed after being kicked out of the 2014 Florida State Fair, an attorney for Joseph’s parents grilled the man who oversaw the event’s security.

Now-retired Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Todd Anthony endured several hours of questioning Wednesday from attorney Chris Anulewicz. Among the inquiries: Was Anthony aware of any rule that required an officer, when dealing with a child, to treat them differently than they would an adult?

“No, sir,” he said.

The mood in the courtroom was at times tense as the lawyer and the witness quibbled over things like what it means to be “taken into custody” and whether a specific Florida statute required deputies to notify a child’s parents after detaining them.

Anthony was asked if he considered the surrounding neighborhood when he chose where to take people who’d been ejected from the fair. No, he said.

He was asked if there was any plan for how a child who was kicked out could get back to their parents. His answer, again, was no.

Related: Trial in federal lawsuit brings Hillsborough boy's 2014 death into focus

Andrew Joseph III died late the night of Feb. 7, 2014, when he was struck by an SUV while running across Interstate 4. He had been kicked out of the nearby fair two hours earlier after a sheriff’s deputy detained him during what was described as a disturbance on the midway.

Court records describe Joseph’s last movements as a desperate effort to return to where he hoped to meet a friend’s mother who could drive him home.

Andrew Joseph Jr. and Deanna Joseph are suing the Hillsborough County sheriff and the deputy who first detained their son, alleging that they set in motion the events that led to his death. Their lawyers have asked the jury to award $30 million to compensate for their loss.

Joseph, who was one of thousands of young people who attended the fair with free tickets on Student Day, was seen picking up a friend’s hat on the midway as the friend was being detained, according to court records. Joseph was then detained, too.

He was taken to a processing area on the fairgrounds, where deputies seized his belongings, took his picture and filled out an ejection form. The form gave a reason: “running through the mid-way causing disorderly conduct.” He was then driven with other detained kids to the fairgrounds’ western edge, where they were dropped off.

After being denied reentry to the fair, the boys headed back to Orient Road, then walked north to the Hard Rock Casino and eventually made their way onto the interstate, where the crash occurred. The other boy was not hurt.

A significant portion of Wednesday’s questioning focused on a phenomenon that the former sergeant claimed was common in 2014 among children. He called it “wilding.”

It was described as a situation in which large groups of kids gather together before making a “mad dash” with the intent of knocking people down.

Anthony read from an affidavit he’d written describing the “wilding” at the Florida State Fair. It was a trend that was documented in media at the time, he said. A former colonel at the Sheriff’s Office was quoted in news articles about it.

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“We didn’t coin the phrase,” Anthony said. “I don’t know where the phrase came from.”

Anulewicz asked him if Joseph ever ran and knocked anyone over at the fair. Anthony said he didn’t know.

The lawyers asked what the “disorderly conduct” was that Joseph committed that resulted in his detention. Anthony said he didn’t know.

“I wasn’t the person that saw the disorderly conduct,” he said.

Related: Mom recalls life of son who died after getting kicked out of Florida State Fair

The testimony came a day after the jury heard from other deputies who worked the fair that night. They included Mark Clark, who, along with Sheriff Chad Chronister, is a defendant in the lawsuit.

Clark told the jury that he had no memory of interacting with Joseph or what the boy did to be detained.

The trial is expected to last through the end of next week.