UPDATE:  On Friday, May 12, 2017, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC brought the ongoing civil suit against Sergeant Michael Custer and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) for the unjustified shooting and death of Seth Adams to closure.

In a press conference held on Monday May 15, 2017, the day before the five-year anniversary of the fatal shooting of Seth Adams, Cohen Milstein attorneys accompanied Lydia and Richard Adams, surviving parents of Seth Adams, to announce that the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $2.5 million to settle the case against them. This is the largest settlement amount that the agency has ever agreed to pay out. Many feel that this agreement is a clear indication that the Sheriff's Office is finally acknowledging the unjustified shooting and death of Seth Adams by Sgt. Custer and the mishandling of crime scene evidence and subsequent investigation by their officers.

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

Case Background

On the night of May 16, 2012, Sergeant Michael, dressed in plain clothes 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, an employee of the nursery who resided on the premises, arrived at his home at about 11:40 pm that evening and requested that Custer leaves his private property. Despite having a back-up in the immediate vicinity and extensive specialized training as a SWAT operator, Custer drew his Glock pistol and shot Adams three times, ultimately causing his death.

Lydia Adams, Seth’s mother, sued Custer in his individual capacity under 42 U.S.C § 1983, alleging that he violated Adams’ Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force against Adams, resulting in his tragic death. The civil lawsuit was filed on March 24, 2014, in Federal court, and alleged that Sergeant Custer used deadly force without justification when shooting and killing the unarmed Seth Adams, a 24-year-old Palm Beach County resident, violating his civil rights under the Fourth Amendment.

Custer moved for summary judgment in the District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that he is immune from liability because the facts show he did not act in violation of Seth’s clearly established constitutional rights. United States District Judge Daniel T.K. Hurley denied that motion and Custer appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Plaintiffs presented evidence in the district court to dispute Custer’s version of events, including forensic evidence that showed Seth was not in the location Custer claimed him to be at the time of the shooting. Viewing this evidence and the Plaintiffs’ allegations, the appellate court agreed with the district court that it was not reasonable for Custer to use deadly force against Adams under the circumstances alleged in the lawsuit. A federal appeals court ruled on November 22, 2016, that the wrongful death lawsuit against Sergeant Michael M. Custer of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office should proceed to trial.

On February 8, 2017, the closely watched month-long Federal civil trial in West Palm Beach began. Jurors heard testimony from a medical examiner, forensic experts, PBSO detectives, and the victim’s parents. Custer alleged that Adams posed a deadly threat to him, but forensic evidence and testimony in the trial overwhelmingly disproved Custer’s version of events and established he was lying about the events leading up to the shooting. Evidence also proved that the sheriff’s office investigation was sloppy at best, including the loss of key evidence.

The trial ended after jurors could not reach a unanimous decision. The jury disclosed that it was divided 8 to 1 in favor of the Adams family on the issue that Custer and the Sherriff’s office destroyed evidence and that Custer's use of deadly force was unjustified. Shortly thereafter, on Wednesday, March 15, 2017, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley declared a mistrial. A second civil trial was set to begin on July 10th.

While nothing can bring back Seth Adams, the settlement is vindication for Seth and an acknowledgment by the County Sheriff’s Office that the shooting was unjustified.

Attorneys Wallace B. McCall and Stephan Le Clainche of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC represented the Adams family in the district court.

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