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PBSO did not act in bad faith, judge rules

Posted at 11:37 AM, Mar 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 18:56:40-05

A federal judge decided on Thursday that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's office did not act in bad faith when it destroyed a laptop that may have been pertinent to the civil case over the shooting death of Seth Adams.

"We're disappointed obviously," said Wally McCall, the Adams' family attorney.  "But he certainly found that they [PBSO] were negligent multiple times in the way they complied with discovery."

In May 2012 Sgt. Michael Custer shot and killed 24-year-old Seth Adams in the parking lot of the Adams family garden shop in Loxahatchee.

Although Adams was unarmed at the time, the Palm Beach County State Attorney and the sheriff’s office cleared Sgt. Custer of any wrongdoing.

But the Adams family has questioned the circumstances of the shooting since day one. Strengthening their case, key evidence that was either destroyed or lost by PBSO.

The department admitted it destroyed Custer’s laptop but that was due to routine upgrades and it happened prior to the office receiving any notice to preserve computer, said attorneys.  PBSO also said any work emails exchanged on the laptop would have been automatically saved to the main server and a search of those records was already done and found no records.

Earlier this morning McCall argued that PBSO lied about records regarding GPS coordinates from members of the tactical team that night.  The team, which included Custer was conducting unrelated surveillance in the area the night of the shooting.

According to McCall, PBSO responded to his original public records request for GPS coordinates by saying there were no records available.  However, months later PBSO was able to provide GPS records for several of the deputies that night, except two, one of them being Custer.  PBSO claims the mix up was the result of human error because a PBSO employee who was working the initial request for GPS records mistakenly put in the wrong date.  Instead of May 16, 2012, the night of the shooting, the search was conducted for May 16, 2014. Federal Judge Daniel Hurley acknowledged it was a mistake.

"People make mistakes, " he said in court.   "I don't think this rises to bad faith," he said.  Attorneys for PBSO reached an agreement with the family's attorney to cover costs associated with time it took for Adams' family attorney to finally that information.

Judge Hurley also agreed with PBSO that its lengthy delay in gathering emails for discovery in this civil case was not in bad faith but the result of a software glitch PBSO had with the Microsoft software it used.

Still, McCall feels strong about his civil case. "This case is every bit as strong today as it was yesterday as it will be when a jury brings in a verdict," he said.

Judge Hurley did not decided if PBSO should be penalized for admittedly losing Custer's PBSO-issued cell phone. He called the loss of that phone, "deeply disturbing" and was also disturbed with what he called PBSO's "casual handling of it."

PBSO did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday's development.  Due to an appeal filed by Sgt. Custer, a trial may be delayed until 2017.