As he did every Saturday night for the previous four years, on August 20, 2011, single dad Joseph A. Blaine Dejoie IV, prepared for work while his seven-year-old daughter played nearby. Joseph’s custody agreement called for his daughter to be picked up by her mother, Dina Moreno West, from Joseph’s place of employment on Saturday nights. Two days prior, Mr. Dejoie testified against Mr. & Mrs. West in custody court, where he sought more time with his daughter.
On this particular Saturday evening, Joseph’s father (Joseph Dejoie III) received a telephone call from Mrs. West asking, “Are you home?” Finding this strange, Mr. Dejoie III immediately called his son and warned him to be careful during the handoff. Mr. Dejoie III had reason to be concerned by the call because Mr. & Mrs. West had a longstanding history of threatening his son. Mr. West, in particular, had on more than one occasion threatened to shoot Mr. Dejoie. This fact has been corroborated by Mr. Dejoie, III, who repeatedly mediated discussions between the Wests and his son.
As they spoke, Joseph told his father, “It’s okay Dad. She’s pulling up now, and she’s alone. I’ll call you back in a minute.”
When several minutes passed with no call from his son, Mr. Dejoie III called his son’s cell phone. After repeated attempts to reach his son failed, the call was finally answered – by a Pensacola Police Department officer, who informed Mr. Dejoie III that his son had just shot Marcus West, his daughter’s stepfather.
When he arrived on the scene, Mr. Dejoie III learned that just as he and his son hung up their phones, Marcus West pulled up in his car, charged across the lawn, shoved and forcefully bore his forefinger into Joseph’s forehead, and began arguing about the custody hearing. Attempting to avoid the situation escalating further, Joseph ordered Mr. West to leave. Several neighbors testified that they did indeed hear a man yell, “Get off my lawn,” several times. Mrs. West also pleaded with her husband to leave, to no avail. Mr. West ignored his wife’s pleas, and in fact, according to Mr. Dejoie, cursed her and pushed her into her car when she attempted to intervene. According to Joseph Dejoie, and neighbors who witnessed the scene, West then claimed to have “something that will blow you and your house down!”
At this point, only after repeated demands that Marcus West leave his property, Joseph pulled a handgun from his belt and again ordered Mr. West off his lawn. Mr. West leaned over and reached into his car, and Joseph fired his weapon, hitting Mr. West in the legs and buttocks. Only then did Mr. West get into the car. Joseph, fearing that Mr. West was now inside the vehicle where he said he had a weapon, ordered him to show his hands. Mr. West continued to rummage under his seat, so Joseph shot again, hitting the car, but not Mr. West. Mr. West fled the scene. Joseph called 911, as had several neighbors before shots rang out, who reported hearing a loud argument between a man and a woman. Joseph remained on the phone with the operator until police arrived. Officers arrived on the scene within minutes.
After speaking with Joseph, the first officer on the scene said to him that this appeared to be a clear-cut case of self-defense. After all, Joseph was assaulted on his own front lawn. However, continued the officer, it all depends on how it is written up in the police report.
The investigator, who did not interview all the witnesses, “summarized” the statements of those she did interview. Neighbors who had called police came outside to tell what they heard and saw, only to be told to go back inside. As a result, Joseph was arrested! Not only that, the attacker, Mr. West, who was treated and released from the hospital two days later, was never charged or arrested. Remember, Mr. West came onto Mr. Dejoie’s lawn, threatened him, struck him, assaulted his own wife, and gave conflicting statements that did not match those of several witnesses. However, Joseph was charged with aggravated battery and firing a weapon into an occupied vehicle. His charge was later elevated to attempted murder.
Joseph’s dad, an Escambia County Sheriff, asked the prosecuting attorney why the state attorney was pursuing these charges, when it was clearly self-defense. According to Mr. Dejoie, the prosecuting attorney responded that it was out of his hands, and that his orders “from above” were to push this case hard.
During his trial, despite the witnesses’ testimonies verifying that Mr. West was clearly the aggressor, the jury found Joseph not guilty of attempted murder, but guilty of firing into an occupied vehicle. For that charge, Joseph IV faced 20 years in state prison. What!? NOT GUILTY for shooting a man, but 20 YEARS, under the 10-20-Life Law, for shooting a car? This gets even better. Under Florida law, the prosecutor, NOT THE JUDGE, is the only person eligible to waive the mandatory minimum!*
Upon learning this, family and friends of Joseph wrote letters to the prosecutor pleading for leniency. The victim, Marcus West, when interviewed by the pre-sentencing PSI, said that he did not want Joseph to go to prison, stating that the only person to suffer if her dad went to prison would be Joseph’s daughter, De’Ana Moreno Dejoie. The PSI requested that Mr. Dejoie be given a reduced sentence, stating that he did not deserve to go to prison at all for this, as it was clearly self-defense. Their pleas fell on deaf ears. At the July 5, 2012 sentencing, Joseph’s parents spoke on his behalf. Joseph read a prepared statement during which he admitted to shooting Mr. West, but reiterated that his sole intention was to defend himself and his daughter from imminent danger.
The judge stated that he believed this was an unfortunate incident that had been brewing for a long time and finally reached a boiling point. He asked the prosecutor if he wished to waive the mandatory minimum, which the prosecutor refused to do. Of course he refused to waive the mandatory minimum. It looks good for his office when he sends the “bad guys” away for a very long time. But, this was not a bad guy.
Joseph Dejoie was employed and paying child support. He was also a full-time student, who was in court fighting for MORE CUSTODY TIME with his daughter just two days prior to this incident. Additionally, he was on his own front lawn. He did not go out looking for trouble; trouble came to his front door, and he defended himself.
It is ill-fated when citizens, in an effort to curtail crime, vote in favor of flawed laws that grant the power to determine a person’s fate to a prosecuting attorney rather than to the judge. Why do we even need a judge to preside over criminal cases if his only power is in ruling in favor of or against objections on the parts of the opposing attorneys?
Joseph Dejoie IV plans to appeal the ruling. In the meantime, he has been sentenced to the mandatory minimum of 20-years in state prison FOR SHOOTING A CAR. This is a travesty. This man is not a career criminal. He is a victim, who in self-defense shot an attacker below the waist, and his wounds were not life threatening. As a result of the prosecutor’s decision to sentence him to the mandatory minimum, his daughter, who was accustomed to speaking to her dad every single day, and being with him four days each week, will not hug him again until she is 28 years-old.
Until citizens stand up to these injustices and blatant abuses of power at the hands of elected officials, we will lose many more men like Joseph Dejoie to the system, and more little girls will suffer the trauma of having their daddies ripped from their lives and their hearts. We cannot let that happen.
If you wish to reach out to Mr. Dejoie, there are several ways to help his case and at the same time, make your voice heard.
* Email firstname.lastname@example.org and his parents will print out and mail your letters to him.