WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A 24-year-old black man awarded $23 million by a federal jury last week said Thursday he forgives the sheriff's deputy who shot and paralyzed him but would like an apology.
Dontrell Stephens, speaking publicly for the first time since the verdict, told a news conference he holds no animosity against Palm Beach County Sgt. Adams Lin but feels Lin owes him an apology.
"You have to forgive people. You can't hold a grudge against someone for what they did, but I would like an apology," Stephens said.
Lin, an Asian-American, shot Stephens in September 2013. Stephens was unarmed when Lin stopped him for riding his bicycle into traffic.
During a federal civil trial that concluded Feb. 3, Lin testified that Stephens put his left hand behind his back and flashed a dark object that he thought was a gun. Videotape from a dashboard camera in Lin's patrol car showed Stephens had his phone in his right hand and that his left hand was empty. The shooting happened four seconds after Stephens got off his bike and walked toward Lin. The two seconds of interaction between Lin and Stephens before the shots happened off camera.
The jury took 3.5 hours to side with Stephens, ruling that Lin had violated Stephens' civil rights.
The sheriff's office didn't immediately respond to phone calls and an email requesting comment on Stephens' request for an apology. It has said it plans to appeal the verdict, which it called "shocking and disappointing."
If the verdict is upheld on appeal, under Florida law, Stephens could receive only $200,000 from Palm Beach County unless the Legislature approves a claims bill granting him more. Stephens' lawyers, Jack Scarola and Darryl Lewis, hope that public pressure will force the Legislature to act. Such claims bills usually take years to pass, if ever, and are often for much less than the jury awarded.
An expert testified at trial that Stephens' medical bills have already exceeded $2 million and he will likely need another $4 million in care if he lives his expected lifespan. The jury awarded the other $17.1 million for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement and other items.
"The jury has spoken," Lewis said. Pointing to Stephens sitting before him in his wheelchair, he said, "To protect this citizen, all the Legislature needs to do is simply validate this verdict."