Oct. 21–A man who this year won a $22.4 million jury award after being paralyzed in a shooting by a deputy, was arrested on drug charges Thursday.
And Dontrell Stephens’ attorney said he now fears collecting the award could be in jeopardy.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office arrested Stephens, 23, and announced it on the agency’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The sheriff’s posts said: “If you sell drugs near a DAY CARE CENTER you are going to get #BUSTED.”
Stephens was booked into the Main Detention Center on Thursday morning on six drug-related charges of heroin, marijuana and cocaine, jail records show. He was jailed on a bond totaling $48,000.
A sheriff’s report detailing the circumstances of the arrest wasn’t released Thursday, and a sheriff’s spokesperson couldn’t be reached to provide more information.
Stephens is in a battle with the Sheriff’s Office to collect the $22.4 million a federal jury awarded him earlier this year. A jury found that Palm Beach Sheriff’s Deputy Adams Lin used excessive force when he shot Stephens, who was unarmed. His wounds from the Sept. 13, 2013, shooting — which was captured on the deputy’s dashboard camera — left him paralyzed.
The Florida Legislature must approve any damages paid by local governments above the state’s cap of $200,000 through a process known as a claims bill.
“I am sure that if Dontrell were to ultimately be convicted of some drug offense, the Sheriff’s Office would attempt to use that to resist passage of the claims bill,” said Stephens’ attorney Jack Scarola.
That could hurt his ability to convince the Legislature to “honor the obligations,” Scarola said.
“On the other hand,” Scarola said he would argue, “the Sheriff’s Office cut Dontrell Stephens’ legs out from underneath him. They have placed him in a situation where it is impossible for him to earn money in any legal way.”
Lin testified he saw a dark object in Stephens’ hand that he thought was a gun, putting him in fear of his life. Stephens, who had been pulled over on his bicycle for a traffic infraction, was only holding a broken cellphone. He also had a baggie of marijuana stuffed in his shoe.
Lin fired his gun four times, three of the bullets are still lodged in Stephens’ body: two in his arm and one in his spine. “Dontrell Stephens is absolutely unemployable in this market,” Scarola said.
Stephens collects disability payments from Social Security and still winds up short every months, calling his lawyers, and everyone he knows, telling them he’s “starving” and would they order a pizza, Scarola said.
The shooting left Stephens with $1.5 million in medical bills and nearly $5 million in estimated future medical expenses. His lawyers said Stephens is homeless and staying with a friend in Royal Palm Beach.
Lawyers for the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office and Lin have been wrangling over attempts by Stephens’ lawyers to garnish Lin’s wages and bank accounts to begin paying the judgment against him. A hearing on that issue is scheduled for Nov. 7 in federal court in Fort Lauderdale.
Lin filed court records in September claiming he is legally exempt from having money automatically deducted from his income because he is head of his family and provides more than half of the financial support for his 6-year-old daughter.
Staff Writer Paula McMahon contributed to this report.
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