UPDATE, WEDNESDAY 5 P.M.: The hearing ended in roughly five hours, setting the stage for jury selection to begin Monday.
Two days of hearings begin today to decide various issues swirling around a multi-million-dollar wrongful death lawsuit the parents of Seth Adams filed against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Sgt. Michael Custer.
The hearings will help decide what evidence a jury will hear next week when the four-week trial on the multi-million-dollar suit begins in U.S. District Court. Jury selection is to begin Monday.
Adams, 24, was shot dead by Custer, who was in plainclothes and an unmarked SUV, in the parking lot of A One Stop Garden Shop. Adams lived and worked at the Loxahatchee Groves nursery, which is owned by his sister and brother-in-law.
Unlike Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, Custer failed to persuade a federal judge – or an appeals court – that as a police officer he was exempt from claims that he violated Adams’ civil rights by using excessive force.
In allowing the lawsuit against Custer to proceed, federal Judge Daniel Hurley ruled that conflicting evidence about what happened in the dark parking lot should be decided by a jury. Contrary to Custer’s version of events, Hurley said there is evidence that Adams did not grab the deputy by the throat or reach into the glove box of his truck, causing Custer to believe he was going after a gun.
Rather, Hurley ruled, based on information Adams’ parents uncovered, there is evidence that Adams was “standing, unarmed and empty-handed, behind or near the rear driver-side tire of his pickup truck at the time Custer fired his first shot, well beyond the reach of any interior compartment of the vehicle.”
Much like last year’s trial involving the 2013 shooting of Dontrell Stephens by PBSO Sgt. Adams Lin that ended with a $22.4 million verdict against the deputy and the sheriff’s office, the jury will be asked to weigh only Custer’s actions. But, as in the case of Stephens, who was paralyzed when Lin’s bullet severed his spine, the sheriff’s office would be responsible for any damages the jury awards.
One of the key questions U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley will decide this week is whether the jury will be told that Custer’s cell phone disappeared after the shooting. Hurley could decide to order the sheriff’s office to pay what amounts to a fine for losing what the lawyers representing Richard and Lydia Adams claim is a key piece of evidence.
Custer claims he turned in his cell phone as he was told to do. Somehow, his attorneys claim, it was destroyed by employees in the agency’s communications unit who didn’t know it had to be preserved as evidence. But, the Adams’ attorney Wallace McCall contends an email written by one of Custer’s superiors describes the phone’s disappearance as part of “an evil plan.” PBSO said the email was unrelated to the phone’s disappearance.
The email is key to the Adams’ claims that “the Sheriff’s Office and Custer covered-up the events that transpired on the evening that Custer killed the unarmed Seth Adams and is relevant to (their) claim that Custer’s phone was ‘lost’ because it contained evidence that would be damaging,” wrote attorney Stephan LeClainche, who is also representing Adams’ parents.
The full article can be viewed here.