Mimesis Law
23 September 2020

Consequences And Repercussions In Palm Beach County Police Shooting

January 17, 2017 (Fault Lines) – Deputy Adams Lin and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are in the midst of a hard lesson on consequences and repercussions, by way of some U.S. Marshals cleaning out Lin’s house. Those are the things that happen when you make a decision. In fact, consequences and repercussions are arguably the most important part of a decision. If you don’t have to live with the effects of your decision, who gives a damn which way you decide?

This was probably the thought process Deputy Lin had when he shot unarmed Dontrell Stephens, leaving him paralyzed. Shoot a man with his hands raised, then shoot him in the back. What’s the worst that could happen?

After a jury returned a verdict for Stephens of almost $23 million, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office had another decision to make. In Florida, the legislature has to approve any award beyond $200,000.

The Sheriff’s Office is appealing the jury verdict. If the agency is unsuccessful, Stephen’s lawyers said they can seek $200,000 from the agency. Money after that amount must be approved by the Florida Legislature.

[Stephens’ lawyer] Scarola said he warned the Sheriff’s Office ahead of time that he’d seize property if the Sheriff’s Office didn’t pay the first $200,000 of the jury award. He said they declined.

The attempted death penalty against Stephens started with a bicycle infraction in the fall of 2013. That means Stephens did something wrong. On a bicycle. In addition, it appears he was committing the capital common crime of marijuana possession.

[Lin’s defense attorney,] Barranco argued during the trial that Stephens did not respond to Lin’s instructions after he was pulled over for a traffic infraction on his bicycle. Stephens testified that he was a “little bit” high and had marijuana in his shoe at the time of the traffic stop. Lin erred in thinking that a cell phone that Stephens was holding in his hand was a gun. “It was a reasonable mistake,” Barranco said.

Video from the shooting showed it took four seconds for Lin to shoot at Stephens.

Before you get all up in arms about a verdict against a poor defenseless policeman, keep in mind the hurdles it takes to get to trial in a police shooting case. Never mind actually win that trial. Start with the idea of qualified immunity. Stated simply, the police can do just about anything they want to you. As long as it’s not completely outrageous, they are usually immune from a lawsuit.

Once the federal court decides that whatever the cops did to you was totally fine, that’s the end of the case. On the off chance a federal court says the case can go forward, the police get to stop everything right there and appeal to a federal appeals court. Also known as law enforcement’s best friend.

If a person overcomes all of these hurdles, the reward is a federal jury. Made up of all you people who rant and rave on the internet about how there is a war on police and it’s the most dangerous job in the world and killing people is somehow a perk of a law enforcement position. So, a very friendly jury. And that’s fine. It is the system we have created. Police are no less entitled to a fair trial than anyone else.

To get past all of that, and get an actual verdict, you are going to need more than a half-baked frivolous lawsuit. Despite what the Chamber of Commerce has conned the country into believing, most frivolous lawsuits don’t go anywhere. To give somebody 20 million bucks because the police shot him requires a serious set of facts. And a serious screw up by a police officer.

The verdict reflects two sets of consequences. Lin decided to fire on someone for what amounted to a bike ticket. A jury decided to hold him accountable.

In a stunning pretty common display of arrogance, the Palm Beach Sheriff decided to ignore Stephens’ verdict and effectively told his lawyers to screw off. Why pay $200 grand to a guy you put in a wheelchair for life, and who gives a shit if your deputy gets cleaned out? This is the police. Accountability is for those on the other side of the thin blue line.

So the repercussion of those decisions? Deputy Lin is sitting in his home, looking around at…nothing. Other than his socks and underwear, he pretty much got cleaned out.

Among the items taken: his car, couch, coffee tables, end tables, lamps, his collection of Samurai swords, flatscreen TV, iron, ironing board, computer, golf clubs, bicycle, tools, and almost all of his non-Sheriff’s Office clothing, Scarola said.

Feel sorry for Deputy Lin? Let’s break that down. What’s the problem? He got accused of doing something wrong. Then he got fancy defense lawyers paid for by the state. Then he delayed his case for years. Then he got a jury trial and all of the rights and privileges that brings. Then he got to use courtroom maneuvering to delay having to pay for what he did.

Sound familiar? Maybe like what all those criminals you hate get? Isn’t all that due process why we can so happily not give a shit about throwing somebody in a jail cell for most of the rest of their life? What changed? Why is this different?

The Sheriff could have backed up his deputy by paying a few hundred grand to avoid this. It’s easy to talk about how you support the troops when all you have to do is talk. But you can’t find a measly 200 thousand so your deputy can have a coffee table to rest his feet?

So instead, after Lin decided to shoot somebody over a bicycle infraction, and the Sheriff decided not to bother with paying just a fraction of the verdict the jury said he had to pay, the Marshals show up. And take all Lin’s stuff.

There is nothing unfair about it. It’s called consequences. It’s called repercussions. It’s called accountability. You should see what happens without it.

Oh, wait. We are already seeing what happens without accountability. More people get shot by the police. An ironing board and your samurai sword collection are a small price to pay for putting someone in a wheelchair for life over a bike ticket. But at least there was a price.

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  • Scott Jacobs
    17 January 2017 at 9:14 am - Reply

    As long as it’s not completely outrageous, they are usually immune from a lawsuit.

    Hell, frequently even if it is completely outrageous, they are immune from a lawsuit…

  • SPM
    17 January 2017 at 8:45 pm - Reply

    A person being held responsible for his actions. A good precedent. Now if there were consequences for filing a lawsuit and then later moving for its dismissal, we would be onto something.