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Justice Department should check shootings by PBSO deputies
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Adams Lin paralyzed an unarmed man for life. He says he’d do it again.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw stands by Lin. PBSO is defending his actions in a civil suit.
What’s particularly disturbing is the utter lack of compassion for the victim. Dontrell Stephens was committing no crime that warranted Lin pulling a gun. Yet if we believe Lin and Bradshaw, it’s Stephens’ fault for getting shot. I don’t believe them. Stephens’ case is one of several questionable shootings by deputies The Palm Beach Post and WPTV News-Ch. 5 found during an investigation into more than 250 officer-involved shootings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast since 2000. They made some alarming findings that warrant the attention of the U.S. Department of Justice.
Palm Beach County deputies fired at unarmed suspects in roughly 25 percent of shootings.
Deputies disproportionately shot at young black men. A third were unarmed.
Ninety-seven percent of PBSO fatal shootings were determined justified, sometimes based on superficial or incomplete investigations.
PBSO internal investigators ignored or made light of evidence that could be critical of deputies. They didn’t question deputies’ statements, even when facts disputed their stories.
Investigators, for example, never interviewed Stephens even though dashcam video shows his shooter’s story doesn’t add up. Lin claimed Stephens reached for something in his back waistband. He said he thought it might be a weapon, so he fired. The object turned out to be a cellphone.
The video shows Stephens talking on that cellphone while riding a bike as Lin followed him to the location of the shooting. The cellphone was visible the entire time Lin pursued Stephens. It was visible as Stephens got off his bike and walked towards Lin, his hands by his side.
What happened next is unclear because both men were out of view of the dashcam and the sound mysteriously disappeared. That’s when Lin claims Stephens reached for something. He ordered him to put up his hands. He also claims to have ordered him to the ground. He shot when Stephens failed to obey.
Since the cellphone was already in Stephens’ hand, why would he reach for it anywhere? Also, how could Stephens have time to obey Lin’s commands when he was shooting at Stephens four seconds after exiting his patrol car?
Stephens is in a wheelchair, yet Lin acts like the victim.
“What he did to me that day is what his choice was,” Lin said, referring to Stephens in a deposition. “He decided to reach with his left hand and pointed at me like it was a gun.” Really? What Stephens did to him? The cellphone was in Stephens’ right hand. But who cares about the facts? To let Bradshaw tell it, the shoot was clean.
“This is a prime example where dashcam video, and video itself, is not conclusive,” Bradshaw said. “There were things that he saw that alerted him to fear for his safety that were not on that camera.”
This is a prime example of why an outside agency — not PBSO or the Palm Beach County State Attorney, which also cleared Lin — should investigate officerinvolved shootings.
Bradshaw was quick to defend Lin on the day of the shooting before any investigation could’ve possibly been completed.
“There’s nothing in the rules of engagement,” Bradshaw said, “that says we have to put our lives in jeopardy to wait and find out what this is and get killed.”
The evidence suggests Lin already knew Stephens was holding a cellphone and nothing else.
Bradshaw responded to a request for comment by referring me to an interview on WPTV. As usual, he was defensive.
“The way we do things here,” Bradshaw said. “The way we investigate; it is a best practice. They don’t leave any stone unturned.”
Actually, they do. By relying only on deputies’ statements and not interviewing shooting victims, ivestigators leave huge stones unturned.
That can’t possibly be a best practice. The Justice Department needs to tell that to PBSO. Rhonda Swan is a freelance journalist and life coach. Reach her at email@example.com.