Jurors award man wounded by Fla. deputy $23.1M
Video from the dashboard camera in the patrol car showed the man's left hand was empty
By Terry Spencer
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida — A federal jury awarded $23.1 million on Wednesday to a 22-year-old black man who was unarmed when he was shot and paralyzed by a sheriff's deputy, but Florida lawmakers will have to approve any award above $200,000.
The six-woman, two-man jury ruled after 3½ hours of deliberation that Palm Beach County Sheriff's Sgt. Adams Lin violated Dontrell Stephens' civil rights when he shot him in September 2013.
Lin, who had stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic, testified that he shot him 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.
An appeal is expected.
Stephens had been seeking more than $5 million to cover medical treatment and future care, but his attorney Darryl Lewis told a federal jury in his closing arguments Wednesday that the man should get at least $24 million. Lewis said Stephens will have more than $6 million in medical expenses during his lifetime, and that he deserves at least $18 million for his pain and suffering.
The jury apparently rejected Lin's claim that he had made an "objectively reasonable mistake" when he shot Stephens.
The case is among several nationwide that have sparked debate about the deaths of unarmed black males following encounters with law enforcement officers. Federal Magistrate Judge Barry S. Seltzer had instructed jurors that they could 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 with 12 years at the sheriff's office, testified that he stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic and because he didn't recognize him from the neighborhood. Stephens had been riding back to a friend's house where he had been staying after a trip to a convenience store.
In the dashcam video, Lin speeds up his patrol car to catch Stephens as he pedals down a West Palm Beach residential street. Stephens sees Lin and turns into the parking lot of a duplex, hops off his bike and puts it down, his right hand holding his cellphone. Stephens moves behind a car and both men are now outside the camera's view.
Attorneys for both men say Lin told Stephens to put up his hands, but a radio station is playing in Lin's car and no verbal exchange can be heard. The shots are fired in rapid succession after Lin exits the car. Stephens comes back into the frame, makes two quick steps, turns and falls to the ground.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press