A federal jury awarded Dontrell Stephens $23.1 million Wednesday, finding that Palm Beach County Sheriff's deputy Adams Lin acted unreasonably or with excessive force when he shot and paralyzed the unarmed man during a 2013 traffic stop.
Stephens, now 22, has a long road ahead to collect any money. The jury award is more than the state cap of $200,000, so the Florida Legislature must approve the final dollar amount. That process can take years. Additionally, attorneys for the Sheriff's Office indicated before the verdict that they would appeal, the Sun-Sentinel reports.
Lin and both attorneys for the Sheriff's Office declined to comment after the verdict in federal court in Fort Lauderdale. But late Wednesday night, the agency released a statement that called the verdict "both shocking and disappointing." It also confirmed it planned to appeal.
Sheriff's attorney Summer Barranco said Stephens did not respond to Lin's instructions after he was pulled over for a traffic infraction on his bicycle. Stephens testified that he was a "little bit" high and had marijuana in his shoe at the time of the traffic stop.
When Stephens appeared to turn and pull an object from behind him, Lin had reason to believe his life was in danger, she told the jury. As Stephens lay on the ground bleeding, Lin was still searching for the gun he was sure he had seen.
Then, he said he had to "flip a switch" to try to save his life. Using a medical pack from his trunk, he used a pressure dressing on Stephens' wounds. Lin said he and another deputy tried to comfort Stephens, who was calling for help.
Lin testified that he would shoot again in the same circumstances.
The State Attorney's Office has cleared Lin of any criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.