TAMPA — A law enforcement expert testified Wednesday that Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies acted reasonably when they detained Andrew Joseph III and they were not required to notify his parents after he was kicked out of the 2014 Florida State Fair.
Ken Katsaris, who boasted an extensive education and experience in policing, including four years as the elected sheriff in Tallahassee, became a key witness for the defense in the federal trial over the 14-year-old’s death.
His conclusions supported the defense’s contention that Joseph was not in custody when deputies stopped and ejected him from the fair. If he wasn’t actually in custody, defense lawyers have argued, deputies didn’t have to notify his parents.
“When they’re not arrested, there is a talk, counseling and release,” Katsaris said. “There is no requirement to notify the parents.”
On cross-examination, though, Katsaris acknowledged that Joseph was not free to leave when deputies took him to a processing area at the fairgrounds before ejecting him.
The question of whether Joseph was ever in the deputies’ custody will be an important factor as a jury considers whether sheriff’s officials bear any responsibility for his death.
Joseph died the night of Feb. 7, 2014, when he tried to run across Interstate 4. It happened a couple of hours after deputies stopped him during what was described as a disturbance on the midway. Kicked out of the fair, Joseph struggled to find his way back to the main gate, where a friend’s mother was supposed to give him and other teens a ride home.
Joseph’s father and mother are suing Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and retired Cpl. Mark Clark, the deputy who first detained their son. They’ve accused them of violating their son’s rights and setting in motion the events that led to the tragedy.
Arguments from their lawyers hinge partly on a segment of Florida law that dictates how police are to deal with juveniles. One statute, in particular, requires law enforcement to notify a child’s parents when the child is released from custody.
Lawyers for the sheriff have asserted that Joseph was not “taken into custody.” Therefore, they argue, the deputies had no legal duty to notify his parents after he was removed from the fairgrounds.
Katsaris opined that the parental notification requirement only applied if a child is arrested and taken to a detention center.
But witness after witness for Joseph’s parents described what occurred as a detention. Other young people who were detained at the fair recalled that they were not free to leave.
They were taken to a processing area, where deputies seized their belongings, took their photos and ran their names and dates of birth through a computer, witnesses said. Those not taken to a detention center were driven in a van to the edge of the fairgrounds and let out near a roadside.
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Attorneys for the Josephs also have questioned the basis for deputies to stop the teen. A witness described seeing him run up the midway behind two deputies who were escorting two of his friends to a processing area.
It was then that he was stopped. An ejection form stated the reason: “running through the mid-way causing disorderly conduct.”
Katsaris testified that it was a sufficient description to explain Joseph’s ejection.
Lawyers for the Josephs argue that there is no proof that Joseph did anything wrong or that he violated any law.
Lawyers are expected to present closing arguments this morning. After that, the case will go to a jury.