Dontrell Stephens won’t get to seize the wages of the Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy who shot him, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down, a federal magistrate ruled Wednesday.
While Stephens’ attorneys claim the impoverished, wheelchair-bound 23-year-old West Palm Beach man desperately needs the $22.4 million a federal jury awarded him in February, U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer said sheriff’s Sgt. Adam Lin’s $82,400-a-year salary is off-limits.
The $400 a month Lin pays his ex-wife to support their 6-year-old daughter and other related expenses makes him a “head of family,” Seltzer said in a 15-page ruling. By law, those who provide more than 50 percent of the support for their family can’t have their wages garnished.
While acknowledging that Seltzer made the right call, a lawyer representing Stephens said Lin’s troubles may not be over. Attorney Jack Scarola said he will try to seize Lin’s other assets.
Suffering from a plethora of ills related to his paralysis, Stephens needs the money the jury awarded him after it found that Lin used excessive force when he opened fire in 2013, seconds after stopping Stephens for riding his bicycle erratically on Haverhill Road.
If Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who is also on the hook for the $22.4 million, would pay Stephens the $200,000 government agencies are legally obligated to pay for wrongdoing, Scarola said he wouldn’t go after Lin. But, with the verdict on appeal, Bradshaw has steadfastly refused, Scarola said.
By law, $200,000 is the maximum amount government agencies in Florida can pay for misdeeds even if a jury orders them to pay more. The cap can be lifted if the Florida Legislature passes what is known as a claims bill.
While Stephens is no closer to getting any financial help, his recent circumstances have improved somewhat. Arrested in October for selling small amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana to a confidential informant for the sheriff’s office in Royal Palm Beach, state prosecutors two weeks ago reduced the charges, records show. He is no longer accused of selling the drugs within 1,000 feet of a day-care center — an enhancement that would have increased Stephens’ potential punishment substantially.
With Stephens scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 30 for a plea conference, his defense attorney, Ian Goldstein, voiced hope that the case would be resolved. He said he’s convinced Stephens was targeted by deputies because of the lawsuit — an allegation sheriff’s officials have denied. “Having a $23 million verdict against the sheriff’s office can be a dangerous thing,” Goldstein said.
In the meantime, Stephens, who grew up in poverty and lost both parents, is living at a rehabilitation center for the disabled in Mount Dora. The center, which helped him adjust to life without his legs after he was shot, agreed to care for him with the understanding it would be paid if he recovers money from the sheriff’s office and Lin, Scarola said.