During day four of the federal trial for the wrongful death of Andrew Joseph III, a law enforcement expert testified that Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies violated the U.S. Constitution and Florida State Law.
Melvin Tucker was called to the stand by the Joseph family legal team this afternoon. He’s a Navy veteran, former FBI agent and former police chief of several departments, including Tallahassee PD, where he spent 14 years as chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration and has taught criminal law at multiple universities, along with training hundreds of officers on policies and procedure.
The expert was there today to discuss the legality of HCSO conduct on the night Joseph died.
Tucker said that HCSO violated the constitution when deputies took Joseph into custody for running at the Florida State Fair on Feb. 7, 2014, then ejected him without evidence of the teenager committing a crime.
The expert was asked about the legality of Corporal Mark Clark detaining Joseph and passing him to other officers, who put him in an HCSO van and ejected him from the fair.
Tucker, who has testified in over 100 trials for both plaintiff and defense teams in the past, said HCSO deputies involved infringed on the constitution.
“It’s a Fourth Amendment violation,” he said.
In the U.S. Constitution, the Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
“You can’t detain someone for running,” Tucker added.
The night Joseph died, Corporal Clark took Joseph into custody and claimed the 14-year-old committed disorderly conduct by running through the midway of the fair.
The child was not arrested that night, but ejected under the order of Clark and left by the side of Orient Road, about 100 yards south of I-4. He died after being hit by an SUV on the interstate while trying to find his way home. The Joseph family is demanding $30 million in damages.
During the trial, officer Clark has said he “can’t recall” taking Joseph into custody that night. The defense for HCSO has also argued that it hasn’t been proven that Joseph was taken into custody under Florida State Law.
But Florida State Statute 985 contradicts HCSO’s argument. The law says that a child is considered taken into custody by law enforcement as soon as they are detained and not free to leave—which applies to Joseph’s situation.
Tucker cited this state law and said that HCSO violated it.
And if Joseph was taken into custody, HCSO deputies were required to try to contact Joseph’s parents. There is currently no evidence that the sheriff deputies attempted to contact the Joseph family.
“[Joseph] was in fact in custody,” Tucker said. “[HCSO] clearly failed to notify the parents.”
Tucker added that the law also says a child should be turned over to a legal guardian or responsible adult after they are released from custody. But Joseph was instead left on the side of a busy road to fend for himself.
When asked if the officers involved in Joseph’s detainment had violated Florida State Statutes, Tucker said, “Yes.”
Earlier in the day, HCSO defense also butted heads with Judge Mary Scriven about the interpretation of multiple sections of Florida Statute 985.
In response to the defense’s claim that Joseph had only been detained, but was not necessarily in custody, Scriven said that the state law is “plain on its face.”
“The court believes that the child was in custody,” Scriven said.
During questioning, Tucker made sure to explain that he was hired by the legal team for Joseph’s family. He’s reviewed all of the evidence in the case that was presented by the legal teams since 2016. Since that date, he’s been paid a total of $9,000 for his expert input.
During cross examination, HCSO lawyers said Tucker had cited depositions from multiple witnesses that might not have been reliable, including HCSO officers.
Tucker responded that his role as expert witness is to examine the evidence and make his conclusions based on what is presented. HCSO defense also pointed out that in recent years, Tucker has been an expert for plaintiffs over 90% of the time.
Since the trial started earlier this week, Hillsborough Deputies have been caught telling conflicting stories, and Judge Scriven scolded the HCSO defense, telling the lawyers, “You can’t manufacture facts.” One of the commanding officers has also said that individual deputies should be able to interpret laws at their own discretion.