A man who was paralyzed by police bullets in 2013 will receive a $4.5 million settlement from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office.
It’s been several years of ongoing court battles culminating in rare legislation passed by both Florida Democrats and Republicans to compensate Dontrell Stephens for his “injuries and damages as the result of the negligence of a deputy of the office,” a bill summary said.
Wednesday, Florida’s Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Relief of Dontrell Stephens by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office bill.
On the morning of September 13, 2013 a Palm Beach County Deputy named Adam Lin saw a young black man with dreadlocks riding a bike down a road near a school zone. That man was Stephens, 20-years-old at the time.
According to a police report, Stephens was “impeding traffic causing a dangerous situation,” so he pulled Stephens over.
In the report, it said that Lin told Stephens to stop “for the traffic infractions.” But Stephens “did not respond to Deputy Lin other than to stare at him. The suspect then created a situation where Deputy Lin was forced to fire his firearm injuring the suspect,” the affidavit said.
Dashcam Video Shows Stephens Being Shot Within Seconds of Being Stopped by Deputy Lin
In the Dash Cam footage of the shooting, the only thing audible is the sound of the radio in the deputy’s car. Within seconds of Stephens getting off of his bike, he was shot four times in the back by Deputy Lin, who is Asian-American.
Stephens was charged with possession of cocaine because according to the police report .7 grams of crack was in his pocket. He had no gun or weapon on him, but the bullets fired into Stephens back severed his spine, causing him to be paraplegic.
In 2016, Stephens was awarded $22,431,892.05 in a civil lawsuit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, only to have the decision overturned in an appeals court in January 2018, according to CBS12.
During that time, Stephens resorted to selling drugs, as he had been convicted of after arrests in 2011 and 2012. Court records show Stephens was arrested in 2016 for selling marijuana and heroin to an undercover cop and in 2017 he plead guilty to the charges. He served a 9-month sentence on house arrest to be followed by two years of probation.
The drug dealing was a big part of the reason that Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw didn’t want to pay Stephens, according to The Tampa Bay Times. The paper reported that Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill to award Stephens compensation said, “The insinuation was there that he wasn’t a Boy Scout, so why should the sheriff give him any money? And that caused a major backlash from the House.”
That backlash, coupled with more backlash that came when lawmakers saw the dashcam video finally prompted Sheriff Bradshaw to agree to some kind of compensation for Stephens, who will never walk again and has a lifetime ahead of him of high-cost medical care needs. The amount of the settlement for $4.5 million was agreed upon by Bradshaw and lawmakers overwhelmingly approved it.
Stephens Now Lives in a Homeless Shelter. He is Confined to a Wheelchair for the Rest of His Life Because a Deputy Thought Stephens’ Cellphone was a Gun.
According to the bill filed in the Florida legislature, “during testimony at trial, Deputy Lin stated that he mistook a cell phone, which was clearly visible throughout the encounter with Mr. Stephens, for a handgun….the only offense committed by Mr. Stephens was a noncriminal bicycle infraction.”
Stephens is now homeless and destitute, with a lifetime of nursing and medical care ahead of him. Now that DeSantis has signed the bill, the $1.5 million of the settlement will be used for attorney fees, lobbying fees, and all other fees related to Stephens’ claim.
The other $3 million will be payable to Evett L. Simmons, who is the guardian of the property of Dontrell Stephens. The money will be used to buy a life care plan for Stephens “as compensation for injuries and damages sustained,” according to the bill.
Stephens told the Palm Beach Post in 2019, “I got justice, but I didn’t get the justice that I was supposed to be served.”
The paper reported that while Stephens “harbors no animosity toward either Lin or Bradshaw, he says his life has been destroyed, telling them, ‘I always wanted to do stuff. I had dreams. I wanted to be somebody.’”