In PBSO’s payouts, shootings are dwarfed by accidents, misconduct

pb sheriff badgeThe Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has paid out precious little to people who have been shot by police over the years – just $1.7 million, as The Palm Beach Post documented last week.

There are a variety of reasons why: unfriendly courts and judges, unsympathetic victims and a state law that limits many payouts to just $200,000.

As a result, the most PBSO has ever paid out for a shooting since 2000 is just $300,000, to the family of a Guatemalan man who was shot and killed by a deputy who planted evidence at the scene.

But the department has paid out far bigger sums over the same period, mostly for accidents and deputy misconduct cases.

Here are the department’s top non-shooting-related settlements in the last 16 years, according to figures provided by PBSO:

$1.5 million: To Jennifer Graham, who was sitting on a park bench when a PBSO deputy lost control of his cruiser while going to a call in 2003. The deputy struck Graham, seriously injuring the then-29-year-old woman.

 $641,000: To Lawrence Femminella, a PBSO jail deputy who was falsely accused in 2003 of supplying cocaine to an inmate. The inmate said five deputies were supplying cocaine, and each were placed on paid leave. They were later cleared, with an apology from then-Sheriff Ed Bieluch: “These are good employees, good people and good citizens. There was no wrongdoing on the part of any of them.”

$600,000: To Doug Miller and his son Shawn, who claimed they were falsely arrested by a deputy in 2001. The incident apparently started with the senior Miller reporting a speeding driver to police, leading to both Millers being arrested on multiple felony charges, including assault with a deadly weapon, according to the Sun Sentinel. Prosecutors never charged them.

$376,817: To former PBSO deputy Keith Burns, who was fired before being acquitted in 2007 of beating a teen with his baton. He later sued, claiming the entire incident was a “ridiculous witch hunt” and that he had a deal with the previous sheriff, Bieluch, that he wouldn’t be fired before the trial ended.

$350,000: To Michael Mueller, the 19-year-old who was allegedly beaten by deputy Keith Burns, after running away from the deputy during a late-night traffic stop in 2003. Mueller said Burns hit him in the head, arms, thighs and back, requiring metal staples to close a wound on his head and a metal plate in his arm to piece the bone back together. Burns denied hitting him, and a jury acquitted him.

$250,000: To two men who, as children, were molested by deputy Gervasio Torres while they were members of the department’s Explorers program. The allegations were first made in 1992, but the department didn’t launch an investigation until 2003. Torres was convicted of two counts of capital sexual battery and is spending life in prison.

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