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Parents of Seth Adams resolve civil suit against PBSO

Posted at 10:11 AM, May 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-15 18:24:19-04

The parents of Seth Adams held a news conference Monday afternoon to announce a $2.5 million settlement with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and Sgt. Michael Custer, five years after the deputy shot and killed their unarmed 24-year-old son.

The Adams family sued Sgt. Custer and PBSO, accusing Custer of using excessive force when he killed their son in May 2012.

Lydia and Richard Adams, alongside attorneys from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, announced that, despite agreeing to the settlement, they are now seeking criminal charges against Sgt. Custer.

"This isn't justice. Justice will be a criminal indictment and a criminal trial and hopefully a guilty verdict," Seth's mother Lydia said.

"The settlement is the largest one that's ever been made by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Department which we feel is an acknowledgment by both the Sheriff and Sgt. Custer that the shooting of Seth Adams was unjustified," said attorney Wallace McCall. "In light of the facts that came out both in our pre-suit investigation and throughout the trial, we are making a demand upon the State Attorney David Aronberg as well as the U.S. Attorney's Office to reopen their criminal investigation into this shooting."

The State Attorney's Office declined to press charges in 2012. But the Adams and their attorneys say, that's because the State Attorney's Office did not have all the facts, they only had PBSO's investigation.  It was an investigation US District Judge Daniel Hurley called, "slipshod and shoddy, a disgrace," during the Seth Adams/Custer civil trial in March.

"This case has brought to light the inability of the sheriff's office to conduct an appropriate and thorough investigation," said Seth's father Richard Adams.

Seth's mother said she is angry and broken. "My child should be here. My son should be here. He should be an uncle to his nephews. He should be taking me out for May Day. He should be laughing. He should be dancing at his wedding. He should be giving me more grandbabies. So many things I'll never know."

In March of this year, a federal judge declared a mistrial, after jurors could not unanimously reach a verdict over whether Sergeant Custer used excessive force. Eight of nine jurors found in favor of the Adams family. A second civil trial was set to begin on July 10.

On May 16, 2012, Sgt. Custer was participating in an undercover surveillance operation and parked his unmarked vehicle at a gardening business owned and operated by the Adams family, despite signs prohibiting after hours parking.

Seth Adams arrived home at about 11:40 p.m. that evening and, upon exiting his vehicle to open the gate, was confronted by Custer. During an ensuing altercation, Custer drew his Glock pistol and shot Adams three times, ultimately causing his death.

Custer testified Adams was shot after reaching into the cab of his truck, presumably to obtain a weapon, thereby putting Custer in fear for his life.

During the trial, the Adams and their attorneys presented testimony from several witnesses that showed physical evidence did not match with Custer's version of events. Adams was unarmed.

The Adams say Sheriff Ric Bradshaw needs to "clean up his act," and are asking the community to help them change the landscape in Palm Beach County.

"Safeguards must be enacted to protect the community from those wearing the shield, make them culpable for their misconduct," said Richard Adams.

They believe all law enforcement should be required to wear mandatory body cameras, and an independent, outside agency should be established to investigate officer-involved shootings.

"It's been 5 years on Tuesday since Seth died. His birthday was April 19th, Mother's Day was yesterday. And I miss my boy. We've been given a life sentence, a life sentence to grieve his loss," said Lydia.

Asked for a comment the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said it does not comment on settlements.  

A spokesperson for the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office says it will not reopen the criminal investigation. The office said despite the civil trial there is no new evidence it needs to consider.