Two PBSO shootings take their toll: settlements top $1 million

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is set to pay out more than $1 million to settle two federal lawsuits involving deputies in controversial shootings.

The department will pay $562,500 to the family of Matthew Pollow, a mentally ill 28-year-old who was killed in April 2014 in Boca Raton. The deputy who shot him said Pollow came after him with a screwdriver.

The department will pay $450,000 to the guardianship of Jeremy Hutton, a then-17-year-old suffering from Down syndrome who was shot while driving away from a deputy in 2010.

Both amounts are by far the most PBSO has paid out for a deputy-involved shooting. The previous record was $300,000, for the 2008 killing of an unarmed Guatemalan man during a traffic stop.

The settlements clear two of at least five lawsuits facing PBSO over shootings, including the shooting of Dontrell Stephens, an unarmed bicyclist left paralyzed. That case is currently in trial in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. Also, the agency faces federal trials in the shootings of Victor Arango and Seth Adams.

In April, The Palm Beach Post documented all police-involved shootings in Palm Beach County, pointing to deficiencies in agency review. The sheriff’s office was involved in 123 shootings, including 45 fatal, between 2000 and April 2015.

Ted Leopold, the attorney for Pollow’s family, said the settlement gave the family justice.

“They got answers they would not have gotten but not for the lawsuit,” he said Monday. “They know, in fact, their son was killed instead of trying to kill someone.”

Both shootings exposed shortcomings in PBSO’s own investigations, lawyers in the two lawsuits said.

In Hutton’s case, both PBSO and the State Attorney’s Office concluded that video recordings showed Hutton driving at deputy Jason Franqui when Franqui started shooting. Franqui was cleared of any wrongdoing.

The video actually showed the opposite: Hutton was driving away from the deputy when the deputy started shooting.

“I think we were able to show their investigation was really delusory and nothing more than a rubber stamp,” said attorney Stuart Kaplan, who represented Hutton. “When we forced those people who were at the top of the (PBSO) food chain to take a look at the case during the deposition and forced them to take a look at the video, they all acknowledged that there were substantial inconsistencies that were unresolved and remained unresolved.”

In Pollow’s case, deputy Evan Rosenthal said Pollow held the screwdriver above his head when he charged at him. But another deputy at the scene said in a deposition that Pollow never had his hands above his waist. Pollow was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic and had called the police for help, his lawyers said.

Leopold said the physical evidence also contradicted the deputy’s statement. Deputies said, for example, that after Pollow was shot, he was gripping the screwdriver so tightly that they had to kick his hand multiple times for him to release it.

But that would have been impossible, Leopold said. Pollow was shot four times, including three times in the back. One of those bullets severed his spine and would have made it impossible to hold anything, Leopold said.

“Facts like that just smelled of something wrong,” Leopold said.

He added, “The review by the State Attorney’s Office and the internal review was, in my respective view, very deficient, and was far afield from what the physical evidence was.”

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