Sheriff keeps cool, welcomes “legitimate conversation” about PBSO shootings

As my Texas granddaddy would have said right about now, “It’s all over but the shoutin’.”

There was plenty in the recently published Palm Beach Post/NewsChannel Five investigation into PBSO shootings for Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to shout about.

READ: The full investigative report

In the last 15 years, one in four shootings were at unarmed individuals; unexpectedly large numbers of those being shot at were black; investigations into shootings were sometimes incomplete and haphazard, and deputies were almost always exonerated.

But speaking on Channel Five’s To The Point, Bradshaw rarely strayed from equanimity into irascibility.

“This has been a legitimate conversation,” he said of public reaction to the series.

That doesn’t mean he has embraced it. Painting a picture of unnecessary force at PBSO “is completely false,” he emphasized.

That includes the 2013 shooting of Dontrell Stephens. The bicyclist was shot and left paralyzed by a deputy who thought he saw a gun. Stephens was unarmed. Part of the shooting was caught on dashcam tape, part wasn’t.

Bradshaw’s take on the video: It didn’t catch what the deputy saw. “There were things he saw that alerted him to fear for his safety,” said Bradshaw.

That fierce defense of his deputies was also part of the Post/NewsChannel Five findings.  The sheriff frequently visits the scene of a deputy-involved shooting and almost invariably tells the news media the deputy acted correctly, long before the results of any formal investigation are in.

Bradshaw countered that in the 45 minutes or so it takes him to get to the scene, investigators with both PBSO and the state attorney’s office typically already have evidence indicating whether it was a good shoot.

Anyway, he added, the media are also there, chomping at the bit for a statement.

“I am always careful to say this is only what we know now,” said Bradshaw, who points to Ferguson, Missouri as a prime example of what happens when the police give out absolutely no information. Riots followed the shooting of Michael Brown when it looked like the police had pulled “a shroud of secrecy” over the fatal incident, he said.

And there’s plenty yet to talk about. Bradshaw says he welcomes it: “We’re going to have the conversation,” he said, “on both sides.”

Video: PBSO deputy describes shooting that left Dontrell Stephens paralyzed

A video of a PBSO deputy shooting an unarmed man within four seconds of stopping him in 2013 captured national attention last week.

Now a newly obtained video shows Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy Adams Lin describing what caused him to shoot.

In the video, Lin says that Dontrell Stephens turned his body and reached toward his waistband as if he was going for a gun.

He didn’t have a gun; it was a cell phone that was in his right hand during the four-second encounter.

The video also shows how Lin, who was assigned to a community-oriented policing job, was dressed. Attorney Jack Scarola, who is representing Stephens in a federal lawsuit against PBSO, said Lin was “dressed for war,” carrying 76 rounds of ammunition.

He was dressed differently from most uniformed PBSO deputies, with a tactical vest carrying his ammunition and Taser. Those items are often carried on a belt.

Scarola released the video to the media on Friday.

Video of Stephens’ shooting came to light last week, when The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 published online the results of a yearlong investigation into police shootings. The reporting revealed that one in every four people shot at by deputies were unarmed, and one in every three people are black. Stephens is black. Lin is Asian.

In the wake of the investigation, Palm Beach County commissioner Priscilla Taylor called for independent investigations and a community symposium.

Video disputes statement of PBSO deputy in shooting of boy with Down syndrome

In 2010, Amy Hutton called 911, frantic: Her 17-year-old son, Jeremy, who suffered from Down syndrome, had taken her minivan for a drive.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded and found Jeremy Hutton driving slowly down Royal Palm Beach Boulevard. One tire was flattened after he hit a curb.

The next moments would end with a deputy shooting Hutton, whose lawyers say has the mental capacity of a 3- to 6-year-old, three times.

When Hutton came to a stop at Okeechobee Boulevard, deputy Jason Franqui pulled his patrol car in front of him, blocking the minivan’s path. Franqui got out of his cruiser.

Hutton then drove around the car, clipping the driver’s side door and bumping the front corner. Franqui fired six times, saying that Hutton looked into his eyes, turned the steering wheel to the right and drove directly at him.

Police and prosecutors justified the shooting, saying that video confirmed that when Franqui fired, he was in front of the minivan.

“The witnesses, physical evidence and video evidence all establish that at the time deputy Franqui discharged his weapon, Hutton was driving his vehicle directly at him,” then-State Attorney Michael McAuliffe wrote in a memo to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.

But The Post obtained the videos of the incident, and they show the opposite: Franqui was beside or behind Hutton’s minivan when he started shooting. The six shots, recorded on his cruiser’s in-car recorder, ring out after Hutton strikes the vehicle.

Unmentioned in the PBSO and state attorney reports: The back and side windows of Hutton’s minivan were shot out. And two rounds went into a passing motorist’s car. That driver was not hurt.

Hutton was shot in the head, shoulder and hand and lived, according to his lawyers. His family is now suing PBSO.

The case is one of many The Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 detailed in a yearlong investigation into police shootings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

The investigation revealed that the department’s internal investigators investigators often rely solely on the deputy’s version of events, ignoring or downplaying conflicting evidence such as videos to justify deadly force, even when it seems apparent that the deputy violated agency protocol.

Disturbed by pattern of PBSO shootings, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor calls for independent review, community symposium

Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said she is organizing a symposium of law enforcement officials and community leaders to find ways to reduce the “unnecessary” rate of shootings of unarmed civilians.

IMG_1149Taylor said she was spurred into hosting the symposium after reading about disturbing patterns of Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies in a joint investigation between The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5.

“From reading your article and seeing it on TV, I am going to convene a symposium to bring law enforcement to the table as well as people to the community. It is a serious issue and we don’t want it to fester here in Palm Beach County what is going on in the rest of the county,’’ Taylor said Friday afternoon.

Taylor also called for an independent review board to study some of the findings reported by the news organizations, including:

  • In roughly one of every four shootings, Palm Beach County deputies fired at unarmed suspects. The Department of Justice has found fault with departments who shot at unarmed suspects less frequently.
  • Deputies disproportionately shot at young black men, a third of whom were unarmed.
  • Non-deadly force options, such as Tasers or batons, were seldom used prior to shooting.
  • PBSO rarely found fault with a deputy’s decision to shoot, sometimes basing its decisions on cursory or incomplete investigations.

20120607_met_screengrabTaylor said she was particularly disturbed by a video showing a deputy stopping an unarmed black man who was riding a bike, then shooting him 4 seconds later as the man was running away from the deputy.

“It’s unnecessary and it’s just like what happening across the country,’’ she said. “Really, I think they need an outside citizen’s review board.’’

Taylor said the symposium will be held in May or June at the Palm Beach County Government Center in downtown West Palm Beach. She said the Delray Beach police department already told her it will send a high-ranking representative.

Her staff plans to send out formal invitations on Monday, including one to Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.

“Hopefully the sheriff himself will come,’’ she said. “We have avoided the conversation. I think we need to talk about.’’

Asked what she hopes the symposium will accomplish, Taylor said: “I hope the discussion will bring out some information that can be shared. It’s important for people in those positions to really hear what the community is saying and maybe come up with some idea to try to address that.’’

Read more about this investigation here: mypalmbeachpost.com/policeshootings

 

POST INVESTIGATION: Nearly one in three people shot at by Palm Beach County deputies are black

A yearlong investigation into police shootings by The Palm Beach Post and WPTV Channel 5 reveals some startling statistics: One in four people shot at by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office are unarmed, and nearly one in three are black.

But while the shootings have been highly controversial, PBSO almost never finds anything to fault.

Our investigation reveals PBSO’s internal investigators often rely solely on the deputy’s version of events, ignoring or downplaying conflicting evidence such as videos to justify deadly force, even when it seems apparent that the deputy violated agency protocol.

We’ve created a database of 256 shootings by 32 local agencies in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast dating to 2000. It’s never been done before here – not even by police themselves.

We’ve also uncovered never-before-seen videos the shootings that dispute police version of events, including the shooting of a 17-year-old boy with Down syndrome and the shooting of an unarmed 20-year-old four seconds after the deputy stopped him.

To read our series, click here.

Lawsuit: Palm Beach County deputy who shot Dontrell Stephens in 2013 had record of complaints

Even Jack Scarola, the lawyer representing Dontrell Stephens in a suit against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, doesn’t thinks Deputy Adams Lin intended to leave Stephens paralyzed.

In 2013, Lin shot Stephens four times after stopping him for riding his bicycle the wrong way across Haverhill Road. Captured on video, it’s one of more than 250 shootings detailed in a year-long investigative report by the Post’s Lawrence Mower and NewsChannel 5’s Katie LaGrone.

Lin thought Stephens was reaching for a gun. There was no weapon though. PBSO and the State Attorney’s office concluded Lin acted appropriately.

And he’s been cleared of other complaints as well, writes Scarola in the Stephens suit. But Scarola believes that’s a large part of the problem: that PBSO has been reluctant to mete out serious discipline.

Scarola is holding a press conference Friday at 4 p.m. to talk about the Stephens case and his views on PBSO, which he believes is becoming increasingly militaristic in its approach to policing.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw can’t comment on the specifics of the suit, but in court filings, PBSO lawyers have emphatically defended his actions in the Stephens shooting.

From the Stephens lawsuit:

“Among the incidents described in LIN’s file are (i) an allegation that he conducted an illegal “stop and frisk” on a woman walking along the sidewalk by claiming that she was obstructing traffic, (ii) an allegation that he used excessive force, and used the N-word, while effecting the arrest of an African-American man, and (iii) an incident in which LIN fired his Taser at a man because of a perceived threat, LIN created a written report stating that he gave the man multiple commands to drop a rock in his right hand before deploying the Taser, the Taser-mounted video showed that LIN said “drop the rock” just one time, less than one second before firing the Taser, and LIN admitted to the discrepancies between his written report and the video but claimed that he was still justified in deploying the Taser.

“On those occasions, as on all occasions when LIN’s interaction with the public has been evaluated by a PBSO supervisor, LIN’s conduct was determined to be reasonable, justified, and/or consistent with PBSO policy.”

Further, wrote Scarola,

“On six separate occasions since May 2011, the PBSO Early Intervention System flagged LIN for having five or more use of force incidents in the preceding twelve months. On two occasions since March 2013, the Early Intervention System flagged LIN for having five or more incident reviews in the preceding twenty-four months.

“None of the Early Intervention System alerts, however, led to any additional training for LIN or any other disciplinary action. To the contrary, on the two occasions when PBSO supervisors wrote formal memoranda about LIN’s use of force alerts, they reiterated that LIN’s use of force was and justified “and onforms to existing General Orders.”

 

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Black man hops off his bike, shot by Palm Beach County deputy in 4 seconds

Four seconds: That’s the time it took from the moment Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Lin ran from his car before he opened fire on Dontrell Stephens.

The 2013 incident was captured on video by PBSO and published by The Palm Beach Post and NewsChannel 5 as part of a year-long investigation into police shootings by the Post’s Lawrence Mower and Channel 5’s Katie LaGrone.

Lin thought Stephens, 20, had a gun.

He didn’t. He had a cell phone.

Stephens is just one of the cases they found: Mower and LaGrone created a database of more than 250 shootings.

Stephens had bicycled across a road the wrong way, said Lin, who wanted to give him a ticket.

But once Stephens got off his bike and started walking toward him, Lin believed Stephens was reaching for a gun. He shot four times. Stephens is a paraplegic.