May 15, 2017

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 15, 2017

CONTACT: Anna Susman: 646-200-5285
anna.susman@berlinrosen.com

PALM BEACH COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE TO PAY LARGEST AMOUNT IN THE AGENCY’S HISTORY FOR WRONGFUL DEATH OF SETH ADAMS

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Victim’s parents continue to seek justice for their son, call on
State’s Attorney and U.S. Department of Justice to bring criminal charges

PALM BEACH – The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $2.5 million to the parents of Seth Adams, the unarmed 24-year-old who was shot and killed by Sergeant Michael M. Custer in 2012. Sergeant Custer was accused of using deadly force without justification when he fatally shot Seth Adams, violating his civil rights under the Fourth Amendment. In March, a mistrial was declared after eight of nine jurors voted to find Sgt. Custer liable, falling just short of the unanimous vote needed to render a judgment against him. Adams’ parents have accepted the civil settlement as an acknowledgment by the Sheriff’s Office that Sgt. Custer’s actions were unjustified and have now turned their attention to seeing criminal charges brought against him.

While the settlement concludes the family’s civil case against the Palm Beach County Sherriff’s Office (PBSO), Seth Adams’ parents today called on the State’s Attorney for Palm Beach County, Dave Aronberg, and United States Department of Justice to initiate independent criminal investigations into Sgt. Custer’s misconduct and whether it violated Seth Adams’ civil rights.

“This settlement is not justice, but it is vindication for Seth and an acknowledgment by the County Sheriff’s Office that the shooting was unjustified,” said Richard Adams, Seth Adams’ father. “Our work here is not done and we hope that, through the criminal process, Sgt. Custer will be held responsible for killing our son. What happened to Seth must not happen to anyone else, and we are dedicated to stopping these kinds of tragedies by holding law enforcement accountable.”

“The overwhelming majority of jurors found that Sgt. Custer acted without justification when he killed Seth Adams,” said Wallace McCall, the Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll attorney that represented the Adams family. “As a result of Sgt. Custer’s actions, a young man died for no reason and parents have been left to grieve for the loss of their son.”

“While nothing will bring Seth back, we hope that the settlement gives his parents a small measure of comfort, even as they continue to seek justice through the criminal process,” added co-counsel Stephan LeClainche, also of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll.

From the beginning, Seth Adams’ family has contended that the Sheriff’s Office refused to conduct an appropriate and complete investigation, taking every step possible to protect one of its own. The PBSO’s obvious attempts to discredit Seth Adams helped Sgt. Custer avoid immediate criminal charges. The Adams family, therefore, chose to pursue a civil lawsuit, during which the discovery process brought to light the actual circumstances of the shooting.

On May 16, 2012, Sgt. Custer was participating in an undercover surveillance operation and parked his unmarked vehicle at a gardening business owned and operated by the Adams family, despite signs prohibiting after hours parking.  Seth Adams arrived home at about 11:40 pm that evening and, upon exiting his vehicle to open the gate, was confronted by Custer. During an ensuing altercation, Custer drew his Glock pistol and shot Adams three times, ultimately causing his death. Custer contended that Adams was shot after reaching into the cab of his truck, presumably to obtain a weapon, thereby putting Custer in fear for his life. However, testimony from several PBSO deputies, the crime scene investigators, the medical examiner, and numerous expert witnesses, together with the physical evidence, all established that Adams was unarmed and Custer's version of what occurred was not truthful.  

Beyond the shooting itself, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has been accused of grossly mishandling the investigation into the shooting. U.S. District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley, who presided over the case, sharply criticized the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, stating during the trial: “This investigation has been slipshod and shoddy; this is a disgrace … The community has a right to know that an investigation is being conducted properly.”

Now that Sgt. Custer’s illegal and unjustified actions are a matter of public record, as are those of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, Seth Adams’ family has called for criminal charges to be brought against Sgt. Custer.

Click here to read the full press release.

About Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC

Founded in 1969, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC is recognized as one of the premier law firms in the country handling major, complex plaintiff-side litigation. With more than 90 attorneys, Cohen Milstein has offices in Washington, D.C., Chicago, Ill., Denver, Colo., New York, N.Y., Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., Philadelphia, Pa., and Raleigh, N.C. For additional information, visit www.cohenmilstein.com or call 561-515-1400.

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