Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Jus­tice Depart­ment should check shoot­ings by PBSO deputies

- Rhonda Swan

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 rswan@evo­lu­tion­slife­coach­

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