PBSO shooting of Seth Adams heads to civil trial

Posted at 10:18 PM, Jan 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-13 11:10:52-05

A federal judge has ruled the civil battle over the shooting death of 24-year old Seth Adams by Palm Beach County Sheriff's Sgt. Michael Custer will go to trial.  

In court documents filed Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley stated that physical evidence and witness testimony contain, "genuine issues" which "call into question Sgt. Custer's version of the incident."  

On May 16, 2012, Custer shot and killed Seth Adams in the parking lot of the Adams' family-owned garden shop in Loxahatchee.  

Custer, who said he was working an unrelated undercover surveillance operation in the area at the time, has always maintained that Adams was hostile and aggressive when he pulled into his family's parking lot just after 11 p.m. that night.  Adams lived on the property with his brother and sister-in-law.  Custer, who was in plain clothes and in an unmarked car, was parked in the lot at the time.

At one point, Custer claimed Adams even choked him after Custer said he showed his PBSO badge to Adams. Custer also claimed he only shot Adams when he feared Adams was reaching for a gun.  

Adams' family has disputed Custer's account since day one.  In court documents filed in connection to the family's wrongful death lawsuit,Adams' family attorney has pointed to witness testimony disputing that Custer and Adams were engaged in a hostile encounter moments leading up to the shooting.  

In addition, physical evidence, including Adams' blood trail and lack of bruising or marks on Custer's neck also dispute Custer's version of events, according to Adams' family attorney Wallace McCall.

A federal judge ultimately agreed there are contradictions and has decided to reject a summary judgment motion filed by PBSO that aimed to throw the case out.  As part of a summary judgment review, the judge reviews evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, which in this case, is the Adams family.

In reviewing that evidence, the judge determined (1) Adams did not grab Custer by the throat or otherwise commit a forcible batter on his person prior to the shooting and (2) Adams was standing unarmed and empty-handed behind or near the rear driver-side tire of his pick-up truck at the time Custer fired his first shot. 

Tuesday's ruling means the civil case will be up to jurors to decide what happened that night. 

While this latest ruling is, by and large, a victory for the Adams family in their legal fight against PBSO, the judge decided to throw out several other claims in their lawsuit including one that accused PBSO of having a custom and practice of failing to adequately investigate deputy-involved shootings.  In addition, the judge also threw out a claim alleging that Sgt. Custer didn't immediately render aid to Mr. Adams after he shot him. 

The shooting, ruled justified by PBSO and the State Attorney's office, has been one of the most controversial deputy-involved shootings in recent county history.

A tentative civil trial date is set for early-February but will likely be rescheduled if PBSO appeals this latest ruling.