Family of Andrew Joseph III awarded $15 million in lawsuit against Hillsborough Sheriff, calls win a blow to qualified immunity

The Josephs said that their win is a 'blueprint' for families harmed by law enforcement.

click to enlarge Andrew and Deanna Joseph celebrate their victory against Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office. - Justin Garcia
Justin Garcia
Andrew and Deanna Joseph celebrate their victory against Hillsborough County Sheriffs Office.
Today, a jury awarded a $15 million settlement to Andrew Joseph III's family, as compensation for the wrongful death of their son at the hands of Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

It's a moment that's eight years in the making for the Joseph family, which has sought accountability from HCSO throughout the years since their loved one's death in 2014.

Andrew and Deanna Joseph emerged from the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse this evening to cheers from family and supporters. Screams and laughter erupted as the crowd rushed to hug the Joseph family.

"Whose house?!" Andrew Joseph Jr. shouted.

"Our house!" The crowd shouted back.

"Team Pee Wee!" others in the group shouted, referencing a nickname for the late Joseph III.

"Today we got vindication!" Joseph Jr. said to the crowd.

Deanna Joseph embraced friends and family members with tears flowing down her face before speaking to a wall of news cameras. She said that while the family is elated about HCSO finally being held accountable, the decision is just a step toward ending qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police.
HCSO tried to use qualified immunity to protect itself from the federal lawsuit multiple times—even after it rested its case case yesterday—and failed.

"If any family comes to find themselves in this situation, they now have a blueprint," Deanna said. "Qualified immunity has given the field to these predators, who destroy our families and have no reprise or responsibility."

Joseph said that the work doesn't stop here. She said that activists need to go to state legislators who say demand that qualified immunity end in every state.

"We all feel like that's what it's going to take to be able to keep our community safe and bearable for the future generations to come," she added.

While still celebrating the win, Joseph Jr. said this type of justice for law enforcement "is going to spread." He acknowledged that activists from around the country showed up to support them during the trial. "We struggle with their families and they struggle with ours," he said.

The jury decided that HCSO should pay the settlement to the Joseph family, but ruled against a monetary settlement against Corporal Mark Clark, who was the other defendant in the case. The jury found that HCSO was 90% negligent in Joseph III's death, and said that the child was 10% responsible for his own death. If the defense chooses, it can appeal the ruling.
Joseph III was just 14-years old when he was taken into custody and ejected from the Florida State Fair by Clark on Feb 7. 2014. He died that night while trying to cross Interstate 4. A friend who was with Joseph said that an HCSO deputy had advised  them to cross I-4 just before Joseph died.

During the trial, lawyers for the family said that after Joseph III died, HCSO used the media to make it seem like the child was involved in troublemaking that night at the fair—and never made an attempt to clear his name in the years following his death.

Lawyers for HCSO had claimed that the department wasn't responsible for state and constitutional laws that protected Joseph before and after he was taken into Clark's custody.

But the jury found that HCSO was in fact responsible for those laws, to the tune of $15 million.

Since the trial started last week, Hillsborough Deputies were caught telling conflicting stories, and Judge Mary Scriven scolded the HCSO defense, telling the lawyers, “You can’t manufacture facts.”

One of the commanding officers involved the night Joseph died said that individual deputies should be able to interpret state laws at their own discretion. But a law enforcement expert told the court that HCSO violated the Constitution and State Law by taking the children into custody with no evidence of a crime and failing to contact their parents.

Major Frank Losat, who is representing Chronister in the case, was also accused of wrongly ordering a witness for the defense team to be arrested by HCSO. The witness had to be dismissed from the trial.

This is a developing story.