Expert: Deputy justifiably shot Fla. man over dark object mistaken for gun
There have been other cases where law enforcement officers have confused wallets, keys and calendar books for guns
By Terry Spencer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A sheriff's deputy justifiably shot and paralyzed an unarmed black man because the man's actions made the deputy believe he was drawing a gun and was about to shoot him, a police training expert told a federal court jury Tuesday.
Emanuel Kapelsohn, who operates a firm that trains police firearms instructors, said Palm Beach County Sgt. Adams Lin could not wait to closely inspect and confirm the small dark object that Lin says 22-year-old Dontrell Stephens pulled from behind his back was a gun because he could have been killed. Video from the dashboard camera in Lin's patrol car shows that Stephens had his cellphone in his right hand.
"If you wait for a muzzle flash, that might be the last thing you see," Kapelsohn said.
Stephens is suing Lin and the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, alleging his civil rights were violated. He's seeking more than $5 million to cover medical treatment and future care. The jury must decide whether Lin made an "objectively reasonable mistake" when he shot Stephens.
The case is among several nationwide that have sparked debate about the shooting of unarmed black males by law enforcement officers. Federal Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer has instructed jurors that they must consider only the specific circumstances of Stephens' shooting and no other. Lin, an Asian-American, was cleared of criminal wrongdoing by sheriff's investigators and local prosecutors and was later promoted to sergeant.
Lin, 38 and a 12-year veteran of the sheriff's office, testified earlier that he stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic and because he didn't recognize him from the neighborhood.
Under questioning by Lin attorney Richard A. Giuffreda, Kapelsohn said many small handguns look like cellphones. He pointed to a photograph showing a .25-caliber gun called a "Baby Browning" laid next to a cellphone. He said there have been other cases where law enforcement officers have confused wallets, keys and calendar books for guns.
Kapelshohn's testimony aimed to counter that given by former Tallahassee police chief Melvin L. Tucker, who testified last week for Stephens. He said Lin had no legitimate reason to open fire and that he had put himself in danger by violating several law enforcement procedures.
Stephens' attorney is expected to cross-examine Kapelsohn later Tuesday. Closing arguments are expected Wednesday.
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