During the second day of the federal trial for the wrongful death of Andrew Joseph III, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies and attorneys contradicted each other during testimony.
The discrepancies in their stories were so obvious that they led Judge Mary Scriven to tell the HCSO defense team, “You can’t fabricate facts.
Deputies involved in Joseph’s detention and expulsion from the 2014 Florida State Fair told different stories under oath. Corporal Mark Clark, now retired, was the fair commander at a student party when Joseph was ejected by HCSO before being hit by a car and dying.
Clark is the only officer named in the lawsuit, which is seeking $30 million in damages. The Florida State Fair Authority has already settled with the family for $300,000, the family told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.
While on the stand, Clark told the courtroom that he “doesn’t remember” whether he detained Joseph that night halfway through. Whenever he was asked about the 14-year-old’s detention, he stuck to that story. But an HCSO detention file from that night said Clark was in charge of the detention.
On the form, it said Joseph was, “Running halfway causing disorderly conduct.” The middle is the main fair area, where there are many attractions and food vendors.
Running is not disorderly conduct, as the prosecution pointed out. Clark accepted. But the defense said the middle area of the fairground could often be crowded, in a bid to portray the race as disorderly conduct.
Despite Clark’s claims of not remembering Joseph, he recalls arresting a 15-year-old who was smoking a hand-rolled cigarette. He confirmed the cigarette was filled with tobacco – which should only warrant a citation – but still arrested the child on a misdemeanor charge.
However, the officer who worked under Clark, Henry Echenique, testified that he clearly remembered Clark handing over Joseph and telling him to eject the child from the fair.
“He told me to fill out the eviction form,” Echenique told the court, which included a 10-person jury with no black people. “He said he was busy with something else.”
Echenique said Clark told her the child was causing disorderly conduct.
While Joseph was held for about 30 to 40 minutes before being put in a van and driven out of the fairgrounds, Echenique said he told Clark Joseph wanted to talk to him, but Clark refused.
To try to show that Joseph had the chance to call his family, the HCSO defense used cellphone call logs which they say show the recent college graduate repeatedly tried to call his family in half an hour.
But the family is not responsible for Joseph’s detention and deportation, the prosecution said.
Hillsborough’s deputy, Steven Jones, led Joseph away from the fair to a dark place on Orient Road, about 100 yards south of I-4. Joseph tried to cross the highway and was hit by the SUV which killed him.
Jones initially testified that the area he dropped off Joseph and others in was lit, but the prosecution presented a 2017 deposition in which Jones said he did not recall the area having lights .
Following the testimony of the three officers, Judge Scriven dismissed the jury for the day.
When the jurors left, she approached the HCSO defense team.
She mentioned that a stipulation, or pre-trial agreement, between the prosecution and the defense made it clear that Clark detained Joseph midway and then drove him to the HCSO detention area. Scriven then pointed out that in the courtroom, the defense changed their story to say that Clark “escorted” Joseph to the area.
Several members of the defense team argued that it had come to their attention that because Clark could not remember if he had detained Joseph, it could have been another officer who detained the teenager and the boy. handed over to Clark.
“Who is this mysterious officer?” Scriven asked the defense.
She wondered if the mystery officer could come forward to testify and support the defense’s claims, adding that Clark had never testified about another officer who detained Joseph.
“You can’t fabricate facts,” she told the defense.
The trial continues tomorrow, September 14 at 9 a.m. and is scheduled to continue until September 22.