TAMPA, Fla. — Jury selection is underway in a Tampa federal courtroom in what his relatives' claim was the wrongful death of Andrew Joseph III.
Joseph was just 14 years old when he was ejected from the Florida State Fairgrounds in 2014, along with close to 100 other teenagers, and was struck and killed by a car as he tried to run across Interstate 4 to catch a ride home.
His parents called it a long-awaited day of reckoning.
“We’ve prayed for this day, and finally, it’s here,” said his father, Andrew Joseph II. “My perfect child. So, today is judgment day. Today’s the day that we demand answers.”
After 8 1/2 years and a daunting series of appeals, Andrew and Deanna Joseph entered federal court seeking what they call justice for their son.
“We can’t stop, and we won’t stop. And, we’re just parents till the end,” said his mother, Deanna Joseph.
“The day that’s going to clear my son’s name. That’s going to present the facts. The merits of the case have nothing to do with wilding at the fair,” his father added.
On Student Day 2014 at the Florida State Fair, Joseph was one of about 100 students ejected during an incident along the midway. He was photographed, removed from the property, and dropped off without contacting his parents, who say their son did nothing wrong.
As Joseph tried to run across I-4 to catch a ride home, he was struck and killed.
Local civil rights leaders joined Black Lives Matter on Monday in an organized demonstration at the courthouse to show their support.
“We know, without a doubt, that this young man was racially profiled. With no regard for his civil rights, safety or the concern for his parents,” Pastor Carl Soto said.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office violated federal law, which the Josephs say required supervision and parental contact when a minor is taken into custody.
That didn’t happen.
Attorneys for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office have repeatedly cited a legal principle called qualified immunity, claiming it should shield the law enforcement agency from prosecution.
“We intend to try the case in the courtroom,” they said in a statement, “where the jury will be able to evaluate the facts and all the evidence.”
There have been several security, safety and policy changes at the state fairgrounds since this happened. The Josephs say, eventually, they’d like to see part of the area named for their son as a historic reminder of what happened there.
The trial is expected to last about two weeks.
“The heartache don’t go away,” said Andrew Joseph II, “And there’s no healing without answers.”