Rampaging Face-Biter Anesson Joseph: Deputies Cleared in Shooting; Family Pursuing Civil Lawsuit
Anesson Joseph -- the 28-year-old Palm Beach County native who went on a bizarre naked rampage last February that ended with a deadly police shooting -- was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of his death, a new report released yesterday by Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg says. The document also gives new details about the stranger-than-fiction incident yet fails to ultimately yank back the curtain on the main mystery here -- what could cause a seemingly normal person to make such a fast break from reality?
Aronberg's office has cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing; the findings are a gut punch for Joseph's grieving family, their lawyer tells New Times, leaving the Josephs to possibly pursue other legal options.
"The family is disappointed, but I'm not surprised," says attorney Byrnes Guillaume. "I was hopeful that the state attorney would prosecute these officers, and they chose not to do so."
According to the report, Joseph's violent antics began at 7:48 p.m. on February 4 at a gated community in Delray Beach. A naked Joseph jumped on and began punching Douglas Kozlik, a retired New York Police officer. The 66-year-old was able to fend off Joseph with a shark-shaped beer opener.
Forty minutes later, Joseph spotted Tina and Tony Grein -- 16 and 18, respectively -- and took off in pursuit. Tony Grein tangled with Joseph, and the latter seriously bit Tony on the face, neck, and ear. Grein fended off Joseph with a box cutter. Both Grein and Kozlik were taken to the hospital with serious injuries.
Three Palm Beach Sheriff Office deputies then responded to the scene -- Deputy Pujol, Deputy Rivera, and Sgt. Richard Raasch. From images captured on film, "Joseph can be seen naked, sweaty, extremely muscular, bent forward in an aggressive stance, with a crazy look on his face and eyes," the report says.
"The three deputies ordered him to the ground, stating they just wanted to help him. Joseph pointed toward D/S Rivera, who has the Taser and stated, 'I want you.' Joseph then lunged toward Sgt. Raasch, who fired two shots in defense. Of the three deputies, one of whom was unarmed, Joseph chose to attack the deputy with a firearm in his hand."
After he was shot, Joseph continued to growl and try to get up. He was taken to the hospital, where he died.
No drugs or other substances were found swimming in Joseph's system, the report says, nothing that could explain his "violent break with reality." Guillaume agrees that something chased the young man over the deep end, and yet the attorney was unaware of any previous episodes dotting Joseph's life that would have anticipated his death. "He was under some kind of mental distress; normal people don't act like that."
But the family's attorney also says it is law enforcement's responsibility to handle unruly persons suffering from mental breaks without reaching immediately for a firearm.
"What do we do when people have a mental distress situation?" Guillaume asks. "Should the police escalate the situation? Are they going to use deadly force? We're talking about someone who was unarmed and naked."
Now that the criminal case is closed, the family is pursing other legal options. "They want their day in court," Guillaume says. "It might be in civil court at this point."