Civil trial to begin over PBSO deputy shooting

Posted at 1:17 PM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 19:40:12-05

September 13, 2013 ended with then 20-year-old Dontrell Stephens being shot four times.

Palm Beach County Sheriff's patrol car dash-cam video shows Dontrell Stephens talking on a phone while riding his bike near Haverhill Road.

RELATED: Line of Fire special reports

Video shows Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Adams Lin trail him.  Lin would later say he was going to ticket Stephens for a bicycle violation. 

Dash-cam video shows Stephens, who has been arrested a few times on drug charges, pull over and get off his bike. 

With the cellphone in his right hand, Stephens can be seen on video walking toward the deputy.  The two move out of video frame.  Four seconds later, you can hear four gunshots.  Stephens is seen moving back.  Seconds later he can be seen falling to the ground.

As soon as another deputy arrives, Lin is heard on the radio saying, “I said get on the ground, get on the ground. He starts backing away.”

At one point, the other deputy can be heard telling Lin, “"I got your back, man!  You hear me?  I'm serious.”

The sheriff’s internal affairs department cleared Lin of any policy violations.  The State Attorney also cleared the deputy of any wrongdoing.  Lin’s use of deadly force they said was justified.  

In a closeout memo, State Attorney Dave Aronberg wrote, “Stephens' actions of reaching into his waistband or toward his back when ordered to show his hands permitted the deputy to reasonably fear for his life."

But there was a problem said attorney Jack Scarola, who is representing Stephens in a civil lawsuit against the sheriff’s office. 

"There are no records of any commands ever made to Dontrell Stephens," he said.

As part of our joint investigation with The Palm Beach Post, which found troubling patterns with how PBSO investigates deputy-involved shootings, Scarola last year told the Contact 5 investigators why, he believes, the Stephens' shooting was the result of an overzealous deputy not a true threat.

“I think, for whatever reason, this deputy lost it.  He has repeatedly lied about having justification in order to cover up the fact that he shot and seriously and permanently injured an individual who was doing nothing wrong"

In response, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw further defended his deputy.

“There were things that, he [Lin] says, that feared for his safety that were not on that camera,” the sheriff told WPTV News Anchor Michael Williams shortly after the shooting video was featured in our Line of Fire series.

Today 23-year old Dontrell Stephens remains wheelchair-bound.  The shooting left him paralyzed from the waist down.

Now, a federal jury will be left to determine if PBSO and Lin should also pay the price.

Stephens' lawsuit accuses Lin and PBSO of battery and also alleges that Lin violated Stephens' civil rights when he shot Stephens since Stephens, according to the lawsuit, posed no immediate threat to the Lin's safety and Stephens was not actively resisting arrest or attempting to flee.

The civil trial begins on Monday in a Fort Lauderdale federal courtroom.

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