While Dontrell Stephens is in a rehabilitation facility for the disabled, awaiting trial on drug charges, his attorneys returned to court on Monday to get him money they said he needs to survive after a bullet, shot by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy, severed his spine, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Rather than wait until an appeals court decides whether the 23-year-old West Palm Beach man is entitled to the $22.4 million a jury this year said he deserves from the Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Adams Lin for having his life irreversibly altered in the 2013 shooting, his attorneys want a federal magistrate to allow them to garnish Lin’s salary immediately.
Lin, who is represented by two lawyers from separate firms, argues that his salary can’t be seized because he provides more than 50 percent of the support for his 6-year-old daughter. Therefore, West Palm Beach attorney Steven Ellison argued that Lin’s salary is exempt from seizure under a state law that protects those who are deemed “head of family.”
After hearing from Lin and his ex-wife, U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer indicated he was inclined to rule in Lin’s favor. He gave each side until Nov. 18 to file additional information for him to consider, promising to rule soon. It will be up to Seltzer to determine how much, if anything, Lin is forced to pay
Lin, who said he makes $82,400 annually as a sheriff’s sergeant, gives his ex-wife $400 a month in child support. In addition, he said he pays for his daughter to attend day care after school and to take ice skating and tae kwon do lessons. Under the couple’s marital settlement, he also pays for all her needs, including a separate wardrobe, during the 50 percent of the time she spends with him.
Attorney Bernie O’Donnell, who represents Stephens with Jack Scarola, argued that Lin is under no obligation to pay for his daughter to take the classes. Those, he argued, are voluntary and therefore should be excluded.
However, Seltzer said, such expenditures don’t seem extraordinary. “If they were extravagant expenses — if he had sent his 6-year-old daughter on a ‘round-the-world cruise — it might not be reasonable,” he said.
O’Donnell suggested that money Lin makes from volunteering for extra assignments, such as providing security at festivals and concerts, might be subject to garnishment even if Seltzer agrees Lin’s regular salary is exempt. However, he acknowledged, even if Seltzer accepted his arguments, Lin could make sure Stephens doesn’t get any money by simply not performing any overtime work.
Stephens was released from jail to Neulife Rehabilitation in Mount Dora last month to await trial on charges of selling marijuana, cocaine and heroin to a confidential informant of the Sheriff’s Office in October. The rehab center, which helped him adjust after the shooting, agreed to provide care at no cost with the understanding they would get paid if Stephens ever receives the money the jury says he deserves, Scarola said.
After a monthlong trial, a federal jury in February agreed Lin used excessive force when he shot Stephens seconds after stopping him near Okeechobee Boulevard and Haverhill Road in September 2013 for riding his bicycle erratically. Lin testified that he fired after Stephens reached for what he thought was a gun. It was a cellphone.