Attorneys give closing statements in Andrew Joseph III trial

Jurors are now deliberating the verdict for the trial.

click to enlarge Deanna and Andrew Joseph Jr. stand outside of Tampa's federal courthouse. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Deanna and Andrew Joseph Jr. stand outside of Tampa's federal courthouse.

During closing arguments today in the federal wrongful death trial for Andrew Joseph III, images of the child were displayed on a projector for the court to view.

There were pictures of him as an infant, as a toddler in the bathtub, playing football, with his sister Deja, his mother Deanna, and his father, Andrew Jr.

The packed courtroom sat in silence as the jurors looked upon the images. Some Joseph supporters in the court started crying.

Joseph family attorney Guy Rubin stood in front of the images as he spoke. Rubin said that the Josephs had, “created a stable home life and raised their kids in all the right ways.”

He said that the jury should consider the love shared in the Joseph household when they decide on whether damages will be paid out to the family.

Since Joseph III’s death on Feb. 7 2014, their lives have been upended by grief.

“This is the most life impacting harm and loss imaginable,” Rubin said. “Even when Deanna sleeps, she cries.”

Just before Rubin spoke, the HCSO defense team offered its closing argument.

Attorney Bob Fulton said that the sheriff should not be held responsible. He pointed to the fact that it was hours after Joseph was ejected from the fair by Corporal Mark Clark that the child died on Interstate 4.

“It was not foreseeable to Corporal Clark that three hours after he made contact with Andrew that he would run across Interstate-4,” Fulton said.

Fulton acknowledged Clark’s claims that he doesn’t remember detaining Joseph that night for allegedly running on the midway of the fair—which is not a crime—and calling for the child’s ejection.

“Corporal Clark, to his credit, says he doesn’t remember Andrew Joseph III,” Fulton said.

He then pointed to Joseph making several phone calls during the hours after he was ejected, and how 89 other kids were ejected that night but didn’t go to I-4.

“Nobody else chose to run across Interstate-4,” Fulton said.

Fulton added that, “For some reason, he didn’t call his parents.”

In response to a witness allegation that a deputy had told the children to cross I-4 to get back to where their ride was, because they were trespassed from the fair, Fulton said that he couldn’t believe it.

“It does not make sense that a deputy would do that,” he said.

But during the plaintiff’s opening part of the arguments, attorney Chris Anulewicz said that the defense blaming Joseph was unacceptable.

“Andrew was a good kid,” he said.

He pointed out that the HCSO deputies were the adults in the situation, and that under Florida State Law, specifically Chapter 985, they had the responsibility to make sure Joseph wasn’t left in a dangerous situation and to reach out to his parents. Anulewicz said that Andrew was killed because HCSO created a dangerous situation for him to be in.

“But they want to blame Andrew,” he said.

An expert witness for the defense, who was paid $375 an hour, testified yesterday that Clark had done nothing wrong and didn’t violate state law, the Tampa Bay Times reported . But during cross examination, the expert faltered on knowledge of state law vs. Florida State Fair rules.

Today, the court said in jury instructions that HCSO was in fact responsible for following 985 and the constitution, contrary to the expert witness opinion. 

Joseph's attorneys argued that under the law, HCSO was supposed to attempt to contact Joseph’s parents before releasing him from custody, or to release him to a responsible adult. But the department did no such thing.

The jury now has two issues to decide on: was HCSO negligent in its treatment of Joseph, and were Joseph’s constitutional rights violated when Clark seized him without evidence of the child committing a crime.

Before wrapping up his closing, Rubin pointed out that HCSO still has not cleared Joseph’s name, after using the media to lump him in with kids who were acting up that night.

Rubin advised the jury that they should make a ruling that would give each parent of Joseph $14.6 million dollars, totaling $29.2 million from HCSO. As for Clark, Rubin said that the jury should ask for $5 million in damages from the officer himself.

“We want you to send a loud and clear message that you [HCSO] cannot ignore the law,” Rubin said. “You cannot ignore the safety of our children.”

The jury is expected to deliver its verdict today or tomorrow.