Jury rules in favor of Dontrell Stephens in his civil suit against deputy, PBSO

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - A six-woman, two-man jury in a federal civil trial ruled Wednesday in favor of Dontrell Stevens, awarding him roughly $23 million.

Stephens, who was unarmed, was shot by Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Adams Lin in September 2013.

Lin had stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic.

Stephens is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of the injuries from the shooting.

He was awarded $6,450,000 for medical expenses, $10,626,000 for pain and suffering and the remaining $6 million plus for mental distress and humiliation.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is only required to pay $200,000. Stephens and his lawyers have to go to Tallahassee and ask lawmakers for a special bill to cover the rest.

“This is a tremendous and extremely important victory for the community as a whole and for good law enforcement officers,” Stephens’ attorney Jack Scarola said.

Deputy Lin was cleared of criminal charges, but Stephens sued him and the sheriff's office for medical expenses and pain and suffering.

Stephens had a cellphone in his hand when he was shot.

The deputy says after he stopped Stephens on his bike he first started to put his hands up, but then lowered one of his hands and reached for his waistband.

Lin said he thought Stephens was reaching for a gun. And that is when Lin said that he drew his firearm and fired.

Stephens testified that he complied with the officer and kept his hands in the air.

PBSO issued the following statement in response to the ruling:

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. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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