Judges hear Dontrell Stephens, PBSO appeals

Dontrell Stephens, who won a $23 million settlement after he was shot and paralyzed by a Palm Beach County deputy in 2013, has taken his case to the U.S. District Court of Appeal.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office is liable for $200,000 of the award and Deputy Adams Lin owes the rest for Stephens's medical expenses and pain and suffering.

"He obviously is not capable of paying for the care that's necessary for Dontrell, who is paralyzed for life," said Stephens's attorney David Sales.

Stephens wants the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office to be liable for more than the $200,000 it owes under a state law battery claim for excessive force.

A U.S. District Court did not allow Dontrell's attorneys to go after the sheriff's office using a civil rights violation claim, stating there was no evidence revealing the sheriff's office's policies and practices could have caused the excessive force in the case.

The attorney for Stephens cited several deputy-involved shootings where the sheriff had publicly exonerated deputies of any wrongdoing before an investigation could be conducted, as was done in the Dontrell Stephens shooting.

"What we're here about today is very important because it provides an avenue, if the court agrees with us, we should have gotten to go to the jury on that claim [civil rights violation] to make that recovery against the sheriff's office," said Sales.

The attorney representing Deputy Lin and PBSO asked the court to throw out the jury verdict, claiming the trial court made mistakes during jury instruction. The defense was not allowed to ask jurors whether Deputy Lin reasonably believed Stephens was reaching for a gun.

There is no timeline of when the appeals court will make a decision.