Thursday, June 20, 2024

Unarmed Florida Man Shot by Deputy Awarded $23.1M by Jury

Dontrell Stephens
Dontrell Stephens

*An unarmed Florida man who was shot and paralyzed by a deputy was awarded $23.1 million on Wednesday after a jury found that the officer violated the man’s civil rights when he was shot back in 2013.

According to the Associated Press, it only took 3½ hours of deliberation before a six-woman, two-man jury came back to rule that Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Sgt. Adams Lin did violate Dontrell Stephens‘ civil rights.

The ruling marks the latest development in Stephens’ case, which stemmed from Lin, an Asian-American, stopping Stephens, a black man for riding his bicycle into traffic. The 12-year sheriff’s department veteran stated that Stephens was also stopped because he didn’t recognize him from the neighborhood. At the time, Stephens was traveling to a friend’s house after going to a convenience store.

A dashcam video of the incident shows Lin speeding up his patrol car to catch Stephens as he pedaled down a West Palm Beach residential street. Upon seeing Lin, Stephens turns into the parking lot of a duplex, hops off his bike and puts it down, his right hand holding his cellphone.

Both men later end up outside the dashcam’s view as Stephens moves behind a car and both men are now outside the camera’s view. According to Stephens, Lin already had his gun drawn and shot him after he raised his hands.

Lin, who had stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic, testified that he shot Stephens four times because he reached for his waistband with his left hand and then flashed a dark object that he thought was a small handgun. Stephens testified that he was raising his hands when Lin opened fire for no reason. Video from the dashboard camera in Lin’s patrol car showed Stephens’ left hand was empty and a cellphone was in his right hand.

Stephens later testified that he was raising his hands when Lin opened fire for no reason. Stephens’ lead attorney, Jack Scarola, mentioned to the jury that Lin must have already had his gun pointed at Stephens because he couldn’t have seen the cellphone, perceived it as a gun, drawn his own gun and fired in the two seconds Stephens was out of view of the dashcam video, the AP reports.

Commenting on the ruling, Scarola expressed the verdict is a victory for his client as well as law enforcement officers who have been unfairly stigmatized by unjustified violence against young black men by a small minority of their colleagues.

In his eyes, Scarola feels the jury’s verdict was a plus in helping to restore faith in the justice system among the African-American community.

“This will help good police officers do their duty and be far more effective in their communities,” he said.

As it stands now, an appeal is expected in the case as the notion of Lin’s attorneys asking Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer to reduce the damages is possible. According to the AP, the jury apparently rejected Lin’s claim that he had made an “objectively reasonable mistake” when he shot Stephens.

As the verdict was read, Lin sat stoically, while Stephens wept as he was wheeled into the courtroom minutes later.

For more on Stephens’ case and the jury’s ruling, click here.

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