A 22-year-old Florida man was awarded $23 million by a federal jury Wednesday.
But that does not mean Dontrell Stephens will be able to receive the money anytime soon.
Because of a $200,000 state cap for jury awards, the issue must now go before the Florida Legislature.
The federal jury determined that Lin violated the young black man’s Constitutional rights and used excessive force in the September 2013 shooting when he confused a cell phone for a gun.
It started when Stephens was riding his bicycle in West Palm Beach and Lin reportedly saw Stephens ride through a street at a non-crosswalk, an illegal maneuver that almost caused an accident, Lin claimed.
That was when Lin followed Stephens to a nearby residence and initiated a traffic stop.
Stephens, who was 19 at the time, had a broken phone in his hand as he jumped off of his bicycle, but apparently Lin thought the phone was a gun, and within seconds Lin fired multiple shots at Stephens with his service weapon.
Lin shot Stephens twice in his right arm, once in his chest and once in the back. Stephens was shot in the back in the process of trying to run away. The shot to the back hit Stephens in the spine, which severed it; paralyzing the young man for life.
In a deposition, Lin stated the following:
“The manner he stopped and got off his bicycle was consistent with someone who had run from me in the past. He starts backing away from me and as soon as he backs away, I’m like, get on the ground, get on the ground. And I’m like oh, shit, and I just threw three rounds.”
Lin was cleared of any wrong doing, and was eventually promoted to sergeant. In fact just four days after the shooting, Lin returned to work full time.
The victim sued and after nearly three years, the jury deliberated for three-and-a-half hours before arriving at their figure.
Because of Stephens’s paralysis, he will need extensive medical treatment for the rest of his life. Although Stephens did not have any comment, he was seen crying after the verdict.
Daryl Lewis who is the attorney for Dontrell Stephens said:
“Let it be known [Dontrell Stephens] was grievously wronged by sheriff’s Deputy Lin on that day and he violated his rights. It’s time to start the healing process for Dontrell Stephens.”
Stephens deals with deep bed sores that are infectious and have the potential to kill paraplegics. In court testimony Stephens said:
“I want to get stronger, but do not have the ability to do so. I am depressed and in constant pain. It’s pretty hard to have pain every day. I try my best to handle it. When it’s real bad, I just cry. The pain is so bad I don’t have another way I can handle it.”
According to the Palm Beach Post:
Both Lin and the sheriff’s office are responsible for paying the jury award. It is doubtful Lin can pay it. And, under the state’s sovereign immunity laws, the sheriff’s office is only required to pay $200,000.
For Stephens to get more, the Florida Legislature would have to approve legislation, called a claims bill, authorizing a greater amount to be paid. With the Legislature in session, it’s too late to file a bill this year
In recent years, the Republican-led Legislature has approved very few claims bills and, in some years, none of the many such bills filed.
What is shocking is the fact that Lin won the Palm Beach County Sheriffs Office Community Policing Deputy of the Year award in 2010-11.
Although the video shows that the victim had the phone in hand as he got off the bike, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw claims an object was pulled from the victims waistband, which prompted the shooting.
“Once Stephens pulled the object out of his waistband, the shooting was justified. There’s nothing in the rules of engagement that says we have to put our lives in jeopardy to wait and find out what this is and get killed.” , said Sheriff Bradshaw.