Florida Congressman Alan Grayson announced on Tuesday that the Department of Justice will not investigate the circumstances involving the death of Andrew Joseph III, the 14-year-old black youth who was ejected from the Florida State Fair on Student Day in 2014 and died trying to cross Interstate 4.
Assistant Attorney General Peter J. Kadzik responded back to Grayson on February 18, informing him that “accident, mistake, fear, negligence or bad judgement are not sufficient to establish a willful federal criminal civil rights violation.”
“I’m very, very disappointed,” Grayson said at a news conference held on Tuesday morning on Orient Road off of I-4, near the location where Joseph was hit by a passing car after the Sheriff’s Department released him on February 7, 2014.
‘It seems to me that it is a willful violation of one’s civil rights. Specifically, the constitutional right to life,” he said.
Grayson, who is running in spirited battle for the Democratic party’s nomination for U.S. Senate this year, met with Andrew Joseph Jr. and his wife Deanna, the parents of Andrew Joseph III, in Tampa last September, and said he would contact Attorney General Loretta Lynch and call on the federal government to investigate the case. He sent that letter in November.
“The Department of Justice was a ray of hope that we thought maybe at some bizarre moment that we would get justice, and we would get answers fro the death of our child,” said Deanna Joseph on Tuesday.
A ray of hope of sorts does exist for the family. In his letter rejecting an investigation, Assistant Attorney General Kadzik told Grayson that the DOJ’s Special Litigation Section will consider his letter in determining whether to investigate the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, specifically on allegations that the dept. engages in racial profiling, lacks proper law enforcement preparation, and is negligent.
“I would encourage the Department of Justice to go forward with their promised investigation and make that determination that the sheriffs office does need to be investigated,” Grayson said.
Last month, the Josephs filed their long-planned wrongful-death lawsuit against the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the Florida State Fair Authority and the Hillsborough County School District.
“We have pending litigation now, and we look forward to addressing those allegations in court,” responded Larry McKinnon, Public Information Office for the Sheriffs Office.
“It’s been two years! And I don’t have a police report. Not one sentence,” said an angry Andrew Joseph Jr. at the news conference (The HCSO Office says that the Florida Highway Patrol did write up a report).
Joseph Jr. called out public officials on the board of the State Fair for failing to respond to him, referring to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Hillsborough County Commission Chair Les Miller.
“I haven’t heard one word from him about this state created danger,” Joseph Jr. fumed.
Fair official did change policies in reaction to the death of Andrew Joseph III.
In 2015, Student Day’s rules were changed. Deputies would have to contact the parents or guardians of any juveniles who were ejected. Students must also be with an adult after 6 p.m.
Also attending the press conference was Black Lives Matter activist Donna Davis, who was instrumental in reaching out to Grayson’s office last summer to make him aware of the case.
“We will continue to seek justice,” she said. “You will continue to see on the streets of Tampa. We’re not going away. We’ll lobby, we’ll write policy, we’ll continue to demand answers to these atrocities.”
In addition to the tragic death of the 14-year-old youth, Grayson said there were two tragedies that are part of this case.
One was the irresponsibility of Hillsborough County Sheriff deputies, he said. “You say to yourself, a 14-year-old boy has died. Who was suspended? Who was fired? Who was fined? Who was imprisoned? No one. No one has been held responsible.”
The other tragedy, he said, was about race in America today. He cited statistics regarding how blacks fare poorer than whites when it comes average wages, opportunities for higher education and life expectancy.
“So the color of his skin would have robbed him of one-third of his income, one-third of his chance to attend college, and five years of his life. These are the things that we must challenge.…we must confront racism in its face, and must overcome.”
Then Grayson, Davis and the Josephs sang “We Shall Overcome,” to end the press conference.