Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday approving a $6 million payment to a black man who was left paralyzed when a sheriff’s deputy mistook his cellphone for a handgun and shot him four times.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office must pay the money to Dontrell Stephens, 27, who was left paralyzed from the waist down in the 2013 shooting. The Legislature in March overwhelmingly approved a bill waiving the state’s $200,000 limit that local governments can be required to pay for damages in most cases.
A federal civil jury in 2016 had awarded Stephens $22 million after he sued, an amount Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw refused to pay. After years of negotiations, Bradshaw had offered Stephens $4.5 million, but the Republican-led Legislature went $1.5 million above that.
Of the $6 million, $3.4 million will be used to buy Stephens an annuity to pay for his living expenses, care and treatment. His attorneys will get $1.1 million and $2.5 million will go toward settling Stephens’ medical bills.
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Deputy Adams Lin pursued Stephens, then 20, in his patrol car after Stephens rode his bicycle across a busy road through traffic. Videotape from Lin’s dashboard camera showed that when Stephens saw Lin behind him as he rode into a duplex’s parking lot, he slowed his bike and hopped off.
Lin, an Asian American, testified at the 2016 trial that he thought Stephens was trying to run away and jumped out of his car to cut him off. The video shows that after Stephens hopped off his bike, he walked toward Lin. The deputy is out of sight of the dash cam and Stephens is mostly out of sight when Lin opens fire four seconds after Stephens jumped off the bike. Stephens falls back into view with Lin close behind still firing.
Lin testified at the 2016 civil trial that Stephens put his left hand behind his back and flashed a dark object that he thought was a gun. The dash cam video, however, showed Stephens had his phone in his right hand and that his left hand was empty.
Stephens’ attorneys argued that Lin must have pulled his gun almost immediately after leaving his car as he could not have opened fire so quickly otherwise.
The jury took 3.5 hours to side with Stephens, ruling that Lin had violated Stephens’ civil rights.
Prosecutors cleared Lin of criminal wrongdoing and he remains employed by the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office.