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‘Intended to Fight Until the Bitter End’: How a Florida Family Fought Qualified Immunity and Won a $15 Million Jury Award for the Death of Their Son

“We’ve finally had our day in court,” said Deanna Joseph, who successfully sued the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office for the death of her son, Andrew Joseph III.

After eight years of navigating the legal process, the parents of Andrew Joseph III finally brought their federal wrongful death lawsuit against the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office to trial. The two-week trial ended with a jury siding with Joseph’s family, laying most of the blame for 14-year-old Andrew Joseph’s death on Sheriff’s deputies.

“That was the moment we had been waiting for so long, for Andrew’s truth to be told,” Deanna Joseph said.

The 10-person jury reached its verdict in the case of Andrew Joseph III, who was killed on Feb. 7, 2014, after deputies rounded him up alongside nearly a hundred other teenagers at a school sanctioned day at the Florida State Fair when a fight broke out, although Joseph, 14, was not a participant in the fight. They took the ejected teenagers from the fair and released them near a busy Interstate 4 in Tampa, Florida. It was this highway that 14-year-old Joseph, after crossing it once via an underpass, attempted to cross again to get back to the fairground property when he was hit by an SUV.

On September 22, 2022, the jury ordered the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office to pay Joseph’s family, $15 million in damages in their federal case. Joseph’s mother, Deanna says despite the many setbacks over the years, thanks to the sheriff’s office citing qualified immunity to evade responsibility for Joseph’s death, a semblance of justice has come to the family.

“These eight and a half years have shown us, we were living in a fake façade of a life, and everyone didn’t care the same heart and essence of love for children as we did,” Deanna Joseph said.

The Joseph family attorney, Guy Rubin admits overcoming qualified immunity, which protects government officials from lawsuits when acting in their official capacity, was no small feat, and he credits the Joseph family’s persistence to telling the truth about what happened over the years that caused federal judges to side with them, clearing the way for a federal trial by jury.

“Yes, it is a mountain to climb, qualified immunity, it’s the way the law is written unless you decide to go on that journey to climb that mountain you never know if you’re going to reach the top,” said Guy Rubin, Joseph’s family attorney.

CL Tampa Bay, which covered the federal trial throughout, reported Joseph family attorneys claimed Joseph’s Fourth Amendment rights protecting him from unreasonable seizures and searches were violated when officers frisked the teenagers before kicking them out of the fair. Attorneys also claimed deputies violated state law which requires law enforcement officers detaining minors to notify their parents, something deputies failed to do before sending them away from the fairgrounds. Detaining Joseph, without suspicion of a crime and failing to contact his parents killed the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office claim of qualified immunity in the eyes of federal Judge Mary Scriven, clearing a path to victory for Joseph’s family once in federal court.

“This case did go to an appellate panel twice, and both panels saw it the same way which was to say there was never any proof that Andrew, PeeWee, had ever done anything wrong that created probable cause or even reasonable suspicion he had done anything wrong and the judges at every level were acute to pick up on that fact,” said Rubin.

Although the jury has awarded the family $15 million, the Sheriff’s Office can still appeal the jury’s decision, and while it is unclear if that will happen at this time, Rubin says they are ready to continue their fight for justice on Andrew Joseph’s behalf.

“They intend to fight until the bitter end, and we’re prepared for that,” said Rubin.

Despite the multi-million-dollar jury award, Deanna Joseph says no amount of money can replace her son. “My son, he was the life of our home, a great sense of humor and loving child,” she said.

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