On February 3, a 22-year-old man was awarded $23.1 million by a federal jury following a lawsuit filed against a sheriff’s deputy for a shooting that left the man paralyzed.
The award follows the jury’s ruling that Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Adams Lin used excessive force when he shot Dontrell Stephens.
Stephens was shot by Lin in 2013, when Lin pursued Stephens after observing him riding a bicycle and talking on his cell phone. Truth In Media’s Rachel Blevins reported in April 2015 on the incident after dashcam video showing the September 2013 shooting was released.
“The video shows Lin trailing Stephens, as Stephens rides on his bicycle while talking on his cellphone. Stephens pulls off to the side of the road, gets off of his bicycle, walks towards Lin and out of the dash cam’s frame, with his cellphone in his right hand,” Blevins wrote in a description of the video. “Four seconds later Stephens reappears in the video and Lin opens fire, shooting Stephens four times.”
The video of the shooting can be seen below.
Blevins reported that West Palm Beach news station WPTV had noted that Lin told another deputy shortly after the incident, “He starts backing away. I said, ‘Get on the ground, get on the ground,‘” and the second deputy responded, “I got your back man. I got your back. Hey, you hear me?”
However, attorney Jack Scarola told WPTV that “there are no records of any commands ever made to Dontrell Stephens,” and added that “the deputy’s recorded statements following the shooting were absolutely false. Internal affairs completely ignored that evidence.”
The shooting left Stephens paralyzed, and his attorney, Darryl Lewis, claimed that Stephens deserved $18 million for “pain and suffering” in addition to $6 million in medical expenses, according to ABC News. The jury ultimately awarded Stephens $6.45 million for medical care, more than $10.6 million for “pain and suffering,” and $6 million for “mental distress and humiliation,” according to a report from WPTV.
— Chuck Weber (@ChuckWeber12) February 3, 2016
NewsOK noted that Lin said during testimony earlier this week that he believed Stephens had reached toward his waistband and then was “holding a dark object that he thought was a handgun.” The “dark object” turned out to be a cell phone in Stephen’s right hand; Stephen’s left hand was not holding anything. Lin had reportedly also testified “that he would still shoot an unarmed 22-year-old black man given the same circumstances.”
While the jury awarded over $23 million to Stephens, ABC News clarified that Florida state law dictates legislators must approve awards that are over $200,000.
A statement from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office criticized the verdict and argued that Lin, a “minority himself,” saved Stephens’s life after shooting him.
The jury verdict reached today is both shocking and disappointing. Sgt. Adams Lin, who is a minority himself, and who had worked in the high crime neighborhood where the incident occurred for many years had never used deadly force prior to his unfortunate encounter with Mr. Stephens. In fact Sgt. Lin had worked with many residents in the community including raising funds to send underprivileged African American youth to Washington D.C. on school field trips. Sgt. Lin also fostered an African American child and he had many encounters with African Americans and other minority citizens prior to his encounter with Mr. Stephens. Based upon Mr. Stephens’ actions, Sgt. Lin reasonably mistook a cell phone that Mr. Stephens held in his hand for a firearm, and fearing for his life, he shot Mr. Stephens. Sgt. Lin then saved Mr. Stephens life due to the fact that he had extensive medical training as a result of serving his country as a member of the U.S. Army while on deployment in Afghanistan in 2008. He did so by rendering first aid to Mr. Stephens until EMS arrived.
The narrow issue decided by the jury in this case was limited exclusively to whether Sgt. Lin intentionally used excessive force upon Mr. Stephens on September 13, 2013. The civil rights claim against the Sheriff’s Office was properly dismissed by the Court before trial. The Court dismissed the civil rights claim against the Sheriff’s Office because there was no evidence to support a claim that the Sheriff’s Office’s customs policies, practices and procedures including investigations of officer involved shooting, could have caused the use of excessive deadly force in this case. As a result the jury was not asked to decide any claims against the Sheriff’s Office regarding its customs, policies, practices or procedures, including the investigation of officer involved shootings.
The only remaining claim against the Sheriff’s Office was a state law battery claim for excessive force which has a cap on damages in the amount of $200,000.00 absent passage of a claims bill by the state legislature.
The defendants intend to appeal this verdict.