In the final moments of his closing arguments, Palm Beach County Attorney Stephen LeClainche wrote the words "unjust killing of Seth Adams" on an easel in red ink. Grabbing a blue marker, he then circled those words with a thin blue line. With a calm demeanor, he explained that the line represented law enforcement and the circling of one of their own, so that the unjust killing of Seth Adams is never unearthed."
LeClainche is representing the family of Seth Adams.
A jury of 9 will now decide if PBSO Sergeant Michael Custer used excessive force the night he shot and killed 24- year-old Adams. The multi-million dollar civil case went into the jury's hands around 3 p.m. Monday. Their deliberations will continue Tuesday.
As the jury deliberated Monday, the defense tried to have the case dismissed and go straight to judgment. US District Judge Daniel Hurley denied their motion and said if it were up to him, he'd decide in favor of the Adams.
The day started with closing arguments from another attorney for the Adams, Wally McCall. McCall repeatedly told the jury, it was their job to untangle Sergeant Michael Custer's web of lies, and that "a shooting based on lies can never be justified."
McCall said it was their job to tell the public, and the Adams, the ttruth about what really happened May 16, 2012. The Adams are suing Custer for unnecessary force.
McCall explained Monday morning, that the physical evidence "tells Seth's side of the story."
Sergeant Custer was doing undercover surveillance on the Safe Boyz that night, a gang known for counter surveillance and putting decoys on deputies. McCall said Custer "set that night up to be a disaster," and that he "thought Seth was one of the Safe Boyz because that's what made sense to him." He claims Custer aggressively confronted Seth. McCall called Custer "a coward, who compensates by being a bully."
Custer has always testified Seth approached him and wanted him off the family's private property. Custer claims from the get-go Seth was screaming at him, and that after he identified himself, Seth grabbed him by the throat.
The Adams' attorney, Wally McCall says Custer made up the choke hold, days after the shooting, because "that's deadly force, which meant he was entitled to use deadly force back." There were no red marks, scratches or bruises found on Custer's neck, although Custer's defense maintains there didn't have to be. They argued Custer did not make up the choke hold, because "the night the shooting happened, CSI swabbed his neck, so he had to have told someone."
McCall went on to say that Custer's version of events, the idea Seth rummaged in his cab despite Custer telling him not to, and later spun out the door, leading Custer to think he had a weapon, also does not match the evidence.
McCall used examples of expert testimony, that says the first shot that night was to Seth's forearm, and since the bullet went straight through, the injury would have started bleeding immediately and copiously.
Fragments from the bullet that went through Seth's arm were found behind the truck. Experts also testified they believe the blood trail started between Custer's car and Seth's truck, not by the front door.
"Contrary to the laws of physics, the shooting could not have happened as Sergeant Custer said," said McCall, meaning "Seth could not possibly have been standing inside, between the door and frame of the truck as Sergeant Custer said."
McCall said "the bullet found behind the truck, the origin of the blood trail, the shell casings found behind the truck and spatter on Custer's jeans, tell Seth's story."
"Sergeant Custer shot him when the two of them were between the 2 vehicles, when he knew Seth was unarmed," said McCall.
McCall then went on to speak about what he describes as a cover-up at PBSO. He says PBSO ignored evidence and treated Custer as victim from the get-go.
McCall pointed out that the first time Custer ever told anyone Seth was rummaging in his truck, and might have had a weapon, was during his taped statement 2 days after the shooting. "He concocted that story because it matched a training video where a Georgia cop got shot to a T."
The video shows a Georgia cop shot and killed, because he waits to see what a man rummaging in his truck is looking for. The man pulls out a gun. "Sergeant Custer tailored his testimony to match a training video because that's a classic example of a justified shooting," said McCall.
The jury will decide if Custer's use of force was excessive and unreasonable. They will then decide proper compensation.
"How do you compensate parents for loss of a child?," said McCall.
When talking about the Adams and their lives after Seth, Mc Call said, "It's like a shipwreck, everyone is holding on to one piece of wreckage trying to stay afloat."
"For 5 years the Adams have been trying to find an answer, what happened to our son. You're going to tell them," McCall instructed the jury.
During their closing arguments, the attorneys in charge of defending Sergeant Michael Custer told the jury to only be "interested in truth and justice, no matter the outcome.
Attorney Richard Giufredda asked the jury, "why would Custer shoot Adams for no reason, it makes no sense."
Giufredda questioned the Adams' attorney's assertion, that the physical evidence rejects Custer's version of what happened.
The defense says they believe that when Seth Adams spun out of his truck, as Sergeant Custer has said, because of Seth's height, he would have traveled some distance, meaning he would not have been shot exactly at the open door.
They say that explains why no bullet fragments or blood were found in the truck, and Custer's version matches up with a dent in Seth's door, which they say is the result of Custer kicking it.
The defense argued the plaintiff's version only makes sense is Seth didn't move. The attorneys for the Adams argued this wasn't their version, it was Custer's, and that the evidence showed the only true version.
The defense vehemently denied any cover-up during their investigation into the Seth Adams shooting, saying if there were a conspiracy, PBSO could have done worse things, then not collect certain evidence, like Sergeant Custer's noots.
They say the Adams and their attorneys only presented theories, and did not meet the burden of proof in this case.
The defense say Adams was drunk the night he attacked Custer, and if Sergeant Custer "made this up, he wouldn't have an answer for everything."
As for Custer's PBSO cell phone, that went missing during the investigation, the defense said it was a "classic mistake" for the sheriff's office. The Adams and their attorneys claim Custer and/or someone at PBSO intentionally got rid of that phone.
The jury, among the excessive force claim, will also have to decide if Custer is responsible for losing that phone, and if he did it in bad faith.
Jury deliberations continue Tuesday.
— Sam Smink (@samsminkWPTV) March 13, 2017