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Friends, family of teen killed by speeding deputy call on Hillsborough commission to intervene

Published Mar. 6, 2019

TAMPA — One by one, the crowd of friends, family members and strangers rocked by the death of 15-year-old Josiah Pinner marched out of the Hillsborough County Commission meeting on Wednesday — still angry, still demanding justice or, at least, some answers.

The crowd filled the last three rows of the board's chamber, and commandeered the meeting's public comment portion to beg commissioners to investigate the undercover Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy who crashed into Pinner with his unmarked car on Jan. 11. They cried as they spoke of the grandchildren Pinner's parents will never meet, the wedding and graduation ceremonies they'll never see. And they applauded and held up homemade signs and T-shirts demanding "Justice for Josiah" when speakers argued their case against the sheriff's own investigations into the death.

But after commissioners heard from all 12 people signed up to speak on Josiah's death, among them his aunt, his cousin and his grandmother, commission chairman Les Miller told them the board's hands are tied.

"I don't understand what you're going through — I've come close with a child being shot and almost losing him, and on behalf of this board you have our deepest sympathy," Miller said. "As far as the sheriff goes, we have no jurisdiction over the Sheriff's Office. We only allocate the funds yearly to the sheriff in his budget."

As the group silently rose to leave, activist Jason Carey broke into the chants yelled during multiple demonstrations and protests outside the sheriff's Ybor City headquarters in the days following Josiah's death: "Justice for Josiah!" "Serve and protect, not swerve and neglect!" The family quickly answered his call, falling into a marching line of protestors as they exited.

It's been two months since undercover Deputy Philip J. Montesi crashed into Pinner as the teen and his 14-year-old best friend attempted to cross Florida Avenue near E 124th Avenue. Montesi, 29, was working undercover that night in a unit conducting mobile surveillance in the area, Sheriff Chad Chronister told reporters after the crash. A preliminary investigation found his Hyundai Elantra was traveling Florida Avenue, a 45 mph zone, at about 66 mph.

The Sheriff's Office has yet to complete its investigation into the crash, agency spokesman Danny Alvarez confirmed Wednesday in an emailed statement. Once it does, the case will be turned over to the sheriff's Internal Affairs Division to determine if Montesi was following policies and procedures.

"We continue to express our deepest sympathies to Josiah's family in this difficult time," Alvarez said in an emailed statement to the Tampa Bay Times. "The investigation in this matter is ongoing. As soon as it is complete we will publish our findings and be able to address any concerns at that time."

Montesi, an undercover deputy in the District 1 street crimes unit, elected to take accrued time off and seek counseling following Pinner's death, Chronister said. It was Montesi's fourth on-duty crash since joining the Sheriff's Office in 2013 and the second involving a pedestrian. A preliminary internal affairs investigation found that the Montesi was distracted by his in-car computer when he clipped a man with his patrol car's side mirror in February 2017, records show. He was cleared when the agency's review board concluded the collision was "unavoidable."

"It has been lies upon lies," said Pinner's aunt, Arlene Batalla. "First that it was too dark outside to see him crossing the street at 6:30 p.m.; second that he didn't notice that he hit Josiah; third it came from the Hillsborough County sheriff's department that he was working undercover, as if that's reason enough to excuse him from killing a young boy."

Attorney Edward J. Reyes joined the family in publicly calling on the County Commission to intervene Wednesday morning.

"We've spoken to a lot of witnesses, a lot of people who were in the area and we are definitely pushing for answers," Reyes said. "We spoke with the attorney for the Sheriff's Office yesterday and we would hope you guys would help us by pushing those efforts and having them answer back, because it's been a long delay."

Reyes also appealed to the commission to help the family replace a memorial to Josiah that was removed from the scene of the crash and honor his memory by funding more road safety enhancements around low-income communities like the Halliday Village mobile home park where he had been visiting with his best friend the day he died. The family intends to file a lawsuit against the Sheriff's Office, Reyes said.

Carey, the activist said he hopes to see public officials take a more active role in holding the agency accountable for Pinner's death.

"You have two choices," Carey told commissioners Wednesday morning. "You can sit there and smirk like the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did when we held our rallies. Or, you know, there's choice No 2. You could actually hold this … cop accountable for his actions."

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.