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Florida man shot, paralyzed by police officer awarded $23.1M

By
Andrew V. Pestano

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Dontrell Stephens, who was paralyzed after a police shooting, was awarded $23.1 million by a Florida jury.

The eight-person jury found Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Adams Lin acted unreasonably or with excessive for when he shot Stephens four times in four seconds during an encounter in West Palm Beach on Sept. 13, 2013.

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"The healing process can finally begin," Stephens' attorney Jack Scarola said after the ruling Wednesday. "This is extremely emotional for him. It's been an enormously difficult journey."

"Tell them God is good," Terrell Stephens, his brother, said. "God knows exactly what happened."

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The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office confirmed it would appeal the ruling.

"The jury verdict reached today is both shocking and disappointing," the sheriff's office said in a statement. "Based upon Mr. Stephens' actions, Sgt. Lin reasonably mistook a cell phone that Mr. Stephens held in his hand for a firearm, and fearing for his life, he shot Mr. Stephens."

It was the fourth bullet that injured Stephens' spine. A video of the shooting was released in April 2015, and showed Stephens riding a bicycle and talking on a cellphone while Lin was following him.

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Lin later said he was suspicious of Stephens because he hadn't seen him in the neighborhood before. After Stephens realizes he's being followed, he pulls over, gets off his bike and walks toward the deputy. For about four seconds, Stephens is off-camera, only to be seen again when being shot four times.

Stephens is seen backing away from the officer, then dropping to the ground -- paralyzed from the waist down.

An internal investigation and the State Attorney's Office cleared Lin in the case, ruling that the shooting was justified. Stephens has a criminal record for cocaine possession.

The jury verdict follows similar events nationwide condemning excessive use of force by police, such as the shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina.

The ruling also comes as six officers in Baltimore face charges over the death of Freddie Gray, 25, who sustained a broken neck and spinal cord injuries in April while being driven in a police transport van. His death sparked several weeks of demonstrations against police brutality. Some riots, arson and looting also occurred in the city.

Florida lawmakers will need to approve legislation authorizing payment to Stephens. The sheriff's office is required only to pay up to $200,000 under Florida sovereign immunity laws.

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