Dispute boasts conflicting theories about DNA
Seth Adams’ DNA was likely part of a sample found on the neck of an undercover officer he’s accused of choking before being shot in 2012, jurors learned Monday.
But it’s not possible to say whether the DNA came from skin left by an attempted choking, blood from a gunshot wound or even saliva from the reported screaming that occurred during the fatal encounter, Sheriff ’s Office forensic scientist Tara Sessa testified Monday.
There is only a 1 in 5 billion chance that the DNA found on Palm Beach County Sheriff ’s Sgt. Michael Custer’s neck was left by someone other than Adams or a close relative, Sessa testified.
Somebody else’s DNA — in addition to Custer’s and not matching Adams’— was found on the front of the officer’s jeans and his belt, Sessa said.
Adams’ family is in court seeking millions in an excessive force and wrongful death federal lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office and Custer over the shooting five years ago in a Loxahatchee Groves nursery where Adams lived and worked.
Where DNA was — and wasn’t— found is part of the dispute over the fatal latenight encounter that occurred after Adams, 24, found the undercover officer parked at the nursery in an unmarked Ford Explorer.
Custer has said he identified himself as an undercover officer and that Adams, who had been drinking, screamed at him and choked him. Custer said he broke away and soon after fired four shots because he feared Adams was reaching into the truck for a weapon. No weapon was found.
The Adams’ family attorneys are arguing that evidence found that night — May 16 — refutes Custer’s account of what prompted the shooting.
They say lack of blood inside the truck door or inside the truck cab, as well as a blood trail, a smashed bullet and bullet casings found behind the truck show Adams couldn’t have been shot when he was beside the truck’s cab.
Custer says he tried to pull Adams from the truck before firing, but Adams’s DNA wasn’t found on the officer’s arm, Adams family attorney Wallace McCall told jurors. He has also emphasized that therewere no scratches or bruises seen on Custer’s neck, despite the “inconclusive” DNA sample fromthe neck.
“The physical evidence contradicts Sgt. Custer’s version of why he killed Seth Adams,” McCall told jurors soon after the trial started on Feb. 13.
Attorney Summer Barranco, who represents Custer and the Sheriff’s Office, has cited the DNA found on Custer’s neck as one of the reasons jurors should believe his account of the encounter.
“He was concerned that Seth Adamswas going back to his truck to get a weapon,” Barranco told jurors.
Attorneys for Adams’ family have questioned how the Sheriff’s Office handled the DNA testing, raising concerns about why some things such as Adams’ hands, his clothes and the interior of his truck were not tested.
They have questioned the objectivity of the Sheriff ’s Office handling the testing for one of its own officer-involved shootings instead of using an outside agency.