In September 2013, Dontrell Stephens was pedaling across Haverville Road in West Palm Beach, Florida, when Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy Adams Lin spotted Stephens (video below). Lin then stopped Stephens for riding his bicycle into traffic.
Within four seconds of Lin stepping out of his patrol car, he shot Stephens four times. Lin said Stephens was reaching for his waistband, but Stephens was unarmed and the bullets left him paralyzed from the waist down, The Chicago Tribune reported. The dashboard camera in Lin’s patrol car captured everything.
Although Lin, who is Asian, denied racially profiling Stephens, who is black, the issue of race was prominent in the legal battles that followed. A year-long project by the Palm Beach Post and WPTV found that in officer-involved shootings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast, black men were disproportionately shot at by police -- even though a third of them were unarmed.
On Feb. 3, a federal jury awarded Stephens, who is now 22 years old, $23.1 million to cover the costs of his medical care, pain and suffering, disability, and emotional and mental distress, The Sun-Sentinel reported. The jury found Lin acted unreasonably and with excessive force, but he’s been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing and has since been promoted to sergeant.
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It may be difficult for Stephens to get his payout. The state has a $200,000 cap, so the legislature has to approve the amount and attorneys for th Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said they plan to appeal the decision.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was ordered to pay $200,000 of the awarded amount, WPTV reported.
The issue of race was raised again when the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office issued its statement on the ruling.
“Sgt. Adams Lin, who is a minority himself, and who had worked in the high crime neighborhood where the incident occurred for many years had never used deadly force prior to his unfortunate encounter with Mr. Stephens," the statement read, according to WPTV.
“Sgt. Lin also fostered an African American child and he had many encounters with African Americans and other minority citizens prior to his encounter with Mr. Stephens," the statement continued.
Still, Stephens' attorney Jack Scarola said the verdict is a matter of justice.
"The healing process can finally begin,” he said, according to The Sun-Sentinel. "This is extremely emotional for (Stephens). It's been an enormously difficult journey."