Police shooting victim continues to seek millions

By Carrie Bradon | Nov 9, 2018

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- A West Palm Beach man is seeking millions of dollars after he was shot in 2013 by a deputy who mistook a cellphone for a gun, causing the man to be paralyzed.

Dontrell Stephens was shot in the back in 2013 after he rode his bike into traffic and the police officer who stopped him thought that Stephens' cellphone was a gun. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office issued a statement in October saying it would not pay Stephens more than the $200,000 that was already paid him.

Peter Vujin, a Miami attorney, spoke with Florida Record and explained why the sheriff's office is allowed to make such a claim, even when the damages suffered by Stephens are clearly greater than $200,000.

Indeed, in 2016 a federal jury awarded the injured man $22 million but, given the rules of the state and government agencies, it cannot pay more than $200,000 without the state legislature's approval.

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"It is very difficult to convince the legislature to pay the money damages, just like in this case," Vujin said. "Even if the state commits wrongful death of an individual in Florida, the damages are capped at only $200,000 or $300,000. This is because the state legislature controls whether to, and to what degree, waive its sovereign Immunity." 

In Vujin's opinion, the state's decision to cap the payout at only $200,000 or $300,000, is a violation of the duty to not deprive any person of life, liberty or property.

"This situation is completely unacceptable in a country that prides itself on its tradition of 'equal protection of the laws,' by way of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution," Vujin said. 

It is not known whether Stephens will pursue additional awards, although the sheriff's office seems unwilling to compromise.

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