WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A Florida deputy's shooting of an unarmed black man nearly two years ago was under renewed scrutiny Friday following the emergence of a video.
Dashboard camera video of the shooting of Dontrell Stephens was released Thursday as part of a joint investigation by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV of more than 250 police shootings, and raised questions about Palm Beach County Deputy Adams Lin's decision to fire shots. Stephens, 22, who was being pursued by Lin on Sept. 13, 2013, for allegedly impeding traffic while crossing a West Palm Beach street on his bicycle, was left a paraplegic by his injuries.
The footage shows Stephens come into focus as Lin drives toward him. Stephens hops off his bike and both men disappear from the frame momentarily. Within four seconds, four shots are fired and Stephens falls to the ground.
Lin said he saw Stephens reach into his waistband and that he raised a dark object he believed was a gun. The only object shown in the video is the cellphone Stephens had been holding all along. Lin also said he shouted commands at Stephens to raise his hands, but despite a microphone on the officer, no such commands are heard on the video.
Richard Giuffreda, an attorney representing Lin and the sheriff's office, said Friday that a Bluetooth microphone simply didn't activate in time to capture the officer's commands and that the angles of the dashboard video can be deceiving. What obviously is a cellphone in retrospect, he said, was unclear to Lin, who feared it was a gun.
"Adams Lin literally had a few seconds to decide what was in Mr. Stephens' hand," said Giuffreda, responding to criticism of the shooting following the Post-WPTV report and a news conference held earlier in the day by Stephens' attorney, Jack Scarola.
The officer was back on the job within four days of the shooting, according to the Post-WPTV report. Investigations by the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and the state attorney's office cleared him of any wrongdoing. In a deposition of Lin released by Scarola, who is pursuing a civil suit on Stephens' behalf, the officer insists there was nothing he could have done differently.
"I feel bad for what happened," he said, "but I was not the cause of what happened."
Lin is Asian and Stephens is black, and Scarola said race was an obvious factor in the case. The attorney said the officer's account of the shooting is shown to be untrue by the video.
"Judge the credibility of those statements yourselves," he said.
The revived attention to the case comes amid heightened scrutiny of shootings by police across the country, particularly those involving unarmed young black men. In Baltimore, angry citizens have taken to the streets to protest the death of a black man who received a spinal injury and later died following his arrest by city police officers last week. Protesters promised to stage their biggest march Saturday, when they said they would try to "shut down" the city.
Scarola said he obtained the dashboard video of the Florida shooting a year ago, but didn't publicize it because neither he nor Stephens wanted to spark the type of violence that erupted after the Aug. 9 shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, by a white police officer.
Associated Press writer Joshua Replogle contributed to this report.