September 24, 2022 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Dealing with the police is always a stressful situation. Whether the person is being accused of committing a crime or they are asking for assistance, it is important to remember that this is a tense moment for all parties.

While the police’s job is to protect and serve their community, be careful to not confuse this to mean that they are your friends or looking out for your best interest. That’s why it’s important to know and understand your rights.

If the police decide to stop or arrest someone, our constitutional rights protect us from police misconduct. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always work out how it was intended.

On September 12, 2022, the trial of Andrew Joseph III against the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office started. Now, the jury has come back and awarded the family compensation for the tragic death of their son. We will cover the story, explain our constitutional rights in regard to law enforcement, and how this story relates to criminal actions.

The Story

On September 22, 2022, a jury in the Tampa federal courthouse awarded $15 million in damages to the parents of Andrew Joseph III in a wrongful death lawsuit against current Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister and retired Cpl. Mark Clark.

This trial lasted two weeks, with the jury deliberating for about 4 hours after the closing statements were finished around 2 pm on Thursday. The case was brought forth after the tragic death of the deceased occurring near Florida State fairgrounds on the night of February 7, 2014.

The fair, which is located in Tampa, used to host a Student Day where public school children were encouraged to attend with free admission.

Andrew Joseph, who attended a private catholic church, attended the fair that night with other school children. He and the other kids were picked up at his house by the mother of a classmate before being dropped off at the fair around 6 pm that night.

Andrew Joseph was supposed to be picked up around 10-10:30, but after they arrived at the fair and went on some rides there was a disturbance on the fair’s midway. Some of the deputies who testified in court explained how they saw a big group of kids running around the midway and had to detain around 30 of them because of running and improper conduct.

When Andrew saw some of the Sheriff’s deputies escorting two of his friends, he ran to pick up one of of their belongings. It was then that Cpl. Clark asked who Andrew was and decided to detain him for running and picking up his friend’s hat.

The plaintiffs brought up numerous times during trial how Andrew’s ejection form simply stated that he was running through the midway while causing disorderly conduct. The officers admitted during examination that running was not a crime and that disorderly conduct was simply left up to Cpl. Clark’s discretion.

After being taken to a separate processing area, where the children were fingerprinted and inspected for any gang tattoos, Andrew and most of the children who were part of the commotion were ejected from the fair. The officers drove them to the edge of the fairgrounds on Gate 4 near Orient Road and released them without contacting any of their parents.

On the night that Andrew died, he was accompanied by Corey Thornton, who was 12 years old at the time of the incident. Corey testified that he was only allowed to go to the fair because his parents saw Andrew as a role model and Corey was instructed to stay by Andrew’s side.

Corey testified that when the two of them were ejected, they struggled to find their way back to the main gate where their ride was waiting. Corey stated that a deputy in green near Gate 4 would not allow them to walk through the fair to make their way to their ride and told them that the only thing keeping them from there was the interstate.

After this encounter, Andrew and Corey placed numerous phone calls, and at one time were offered a ride home from Andrew’s football coach. While it was left to the jury to decide why Andrew and Corey declined this ride, it is estimated that they did so because they already had called and were supposed to ride back with the mom who had brought them to the fair.

A couple of hours after being ejected, the two kids decided to cross I-4. Upon crossing through eight lanes of busy traffic, they arrived on the other side and found a fence they could not climb. They were notified that their ride had arrived and was waiting on them, so they decided to cross through I-4 again. Unfortunately, Andrew was hit on this second run and killed.

During closing arguments on Thursday, both sides reiterated the main points they had made during trial. Attorney Robert Fulton, who did the closing arguments for the defendants, tried to emphasize to the jurors that they understood this was a tragic accident but that it was not foreseeable for the officers to expect the youth to cross the interstate.

Plaintiff’s counsel responded during his rebuttal by stating to the jury how ridiculous it was for Fulton to spend an hour and fifteen minutes blaming 14-year-old Andrew Joseph for his own death. He plead to them to impose punitive damages to make sure that this wouldn’t happen again to anyone else and explained to them one more time how they had arrived at the initial figure of almost $30 million toward the family of the deceased.

Florida Law – Police Negligence

A big part of Andrew’s case focused on the fact that the police have a duty to contact the parents of a youth who has been taken into custody. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office argued unsuccessfully that Andrew was not detained and therefore was not under their care.

Under Florida Statute Section 985.101, the police are required to attempt to notify the parents of a juvenile who is taken into custody. The statute specifies that a child cannot be taken into custody unless they meet the following criteria:

  1. There is an order from the circuit court to take the child into custody,
  2. The child committed a delinquent act or violation of law which would permit a lawful arrest,
  3. If the child fails to appear for a court hearing,
  4. Or if a law enforcement officer has probable cause to believe that the child is in violation of their probation, supervised release, conditional release, or has escaped from residential commitment.

Unfortunately for Andrew, the police never attempted to contact his parents, and in violation of Florida Statute Section 985.115, the police released him and the other youths in the fairgrounds on their own reconnaissance. This was another big issue in the case because the statute provides that a child that is taken into custody should be released as soon as reasonably possible, and should be released:

  1. To the child’s parent, guardian, or legal custodian. If they are unavailable, unwilling, or unable to provide supervision, then the police are required to release the child to a responsible adult. Before law enforcement releases the child to a responsible adult that is not a parent, guardian, or legal custodian, the police can conduct a criminal history check on the person who is taking the child. If the check finds certain criminal offenses on their record, the statute dictates that they are not responsible, and the child may not be released to their care.
  2. To a shelter or authorized agent (contingent upon specific appropriation).
  3. If the child is believed to be suffering from a serious physical condition, then to an officer who will take the child to a hospital to receive the necessary treatment and evaluation of their medical issue.
  4. If the child is believed to be mentally ill, then to a designated public receiving facility as specified by statute.
  5. If the child looks to be intoxicated and has (1) threatened, (2) attempted, or (3) inflicted physical harm to themselves or another person, or if they are incapacitated by substance abuse, then to a hospital or treatment facility.
  6. When available, the child can be taken to a juvenile assessment center to assess the needs of the child.

Encountering the Police

While Andrew’s case was a civil action against the State, it is just as important for those of us who may find ourselves dealing with the police during a criminal action to know and understand how to act. Andrew’s counsel argued that the police had no right to detain the youth since he had done nothing wrong.

Nevertheless, whether you have done something wrong or are being accused of a crime you didn’t commit, knowing de-escalation techniques can save you from headaches down the road.

Understand that at the very least you have some important constitutional rights when dealing with police, like:

The right to remain silent,

In Miranda v. Arizona, the United States Supreme Court stated that some warnings must be given to an accused person, in writing or verbally, before they can begin questioning. One of these it the right to remain silent in the face of police questioning. This right is enumerated in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures,

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens against unreasonable searches and seizure perpetrated by the government. Generally, law enforcement must have a warrant accompanied by probable cause in order to conduct a search or seizure, however, warrant exceptions do exist.

And the right to counsel.

The right to counsel is enshrined in both the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, though they have key differences. Under the Fifth Amendment, pursuant to Miranda, an accused has the right to counsel during custodial interrogations. In other words, you have the right to an attorney during incriminating questioning occurring in a situation where you feel unable to leave. Under the Sixth Amendment, those facing criminal charged have the right to an attorney once criminal proceedings have been initiated through all critical stages of the proceeding. This generally includes arraignment, post-indictment line-ups, interrogations, plea bargains, and trial.

And remember, no matter what happens during your encounter with the police, make sure you remain calm. Resisting, running, obstructing, or lying to them can lead to worse trouble down the line for you and those that care about you.

To learn more about police encounters and what rights you have, you can head over to our blog here.

Police Misconduct: How this can Affect your Criminal Case

Had Andrew been arrested by the police, not only would he likely be alive today, but a skilled criminal defense attorney could have used the police misconduct in his case to assist in his defense. Since law enforcement must meet certain constitutional criteria to search or seize property or persons, an understanding of your Fourth Amendment rights can assist in suppressing illegally obtained evidence.

While there are many exceptions to the constitutional warrant requirement, if the police were unreasonable, a criminal defendant can file a motion to suppress any evidence found from that event and the prosecution won’t be able to use it against the defendant if the court agrees that such evidence was obtained in violation of the accused’s constitutional rights.

If you would like to learn more about your rights against police misconduct, you can head over to our blog here.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

If you or a loved one have been accused of a crime and believe your constitutional rights might be implicated or that the police acted inappropriately, it is important to seek out the help of an experienced Tallahassee criminal defense attorney.

The right legal advice can be the difference between jail and freedom. Don Pumphrey and his team at Pumphrey Law Firm have the skill and experience to protect your rights and fight for your freedom. Call (850) 681-7777 or send an online message today and receive a free consultation regarding your case.      

Written by Jesus Lozano

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