PBSO deputy didn’t lose pets – only property – to pay $22.4 million jury verdict

The saga of efforts to seize a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy’s belongings to pay the expenses of a West Palm Beach man he shot and paralyzed took another turn on Tuesday when attorneys challenged the value he claimed his possessions are worth.

Sgt. Adams Lin leaves the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Ft. Lauderdale on January 28, 2016. Dontrell Stephens, who became a paraplegic after being shot by Lin in September 2013, claims Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy Lin used excessive force. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Sgt. Adams Lin leaves U.S. District Court last year. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

In court papers, attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Dontrell Stephens, accused Sgt. Adams Lin of understating the value of his car, his television and a Play Station. They are the only belongings Lin said he owns that are worth more than $25. In total, he said, his possessions, excluding his car, are worth less than $4,000.

Also, while Lin in court papers set the value of his two dogs and a cat at $100, a spokesman for Scarola said neither those pets nor an aquarium with fish were seized. By law, Lin was required to list the value of all of his possessions worth more than $25, the spokesman said.

A hearing will be held before U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer on Wednesday to determine if Lin will get his belongings back. He is allowed to retain $4,000 worth of his possessions, according to the state law. He claims he owes more on his 2014 Dodge Challenger than the $22,000 claims it is worth. Scarola claims it has been modified at a cost of $13,000, making it far more valuable.

Lin’s belongings were seized by court order on Jan. 7 from Lin’s home to defray a $22.4 million judgment Scarola won for Stephens last year. Stephens, 23, who was paralyzed after he was shot by Lin in 2013, is destitute, Scarola said.

The judgment is also against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Scarola said he wants Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to pay Stephens the $200,000 he agency will be legally required to pay if the verdict is upheld on appeal. Bradshaw, he said, has refused.

Under Florida law, $200,000 is the most government agencies can be required to pay for wrongdoing. To get more, the Florida Legislature must pay a claims bill, lifting the cap.

 

Nouman Raja asks for delay in Corey Jones wrongful death suit

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja appears in court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016, charged in the shooting death of Corey Jones.  Nouman Raja is being charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence and one count of attempted first degree murder with a firearm.  (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja appears in court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016, charged in the shooting death of Corey Jones. Nouman Raja is being charged with one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence and one count of attempted first degree murder with a firearm. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The former Palm Beach Gardens police officer who shot 31-year old motorist Corey Jones while on a plainclothes detail last year has asked a federal judge to halt a wrongful death suit against him while he faces criminal charges in the case.

The request from Nouman Raja’s attorney Thursday comes nearly two months after Jones’ family filed a wrongful death suit against him, and three months after Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced a grand jury found Raja’s actions unjustified.

Aronberg, in turn, charged Raja with attempted murder and manslaughter by culpable negligence. A hearing in that case is set for Oct. 6.

Oscar Marrero, the Coral Gables attorney who represents Raja in his civil case, in his request Thursday said Raja won’t be able to get a fair trial in both the criminal and civil cases unless a federal judge postpones the wrongful death suit until the criminal case is over.

Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015.
Corey Jones, 31, was shot and killed by a Palm Beach Gardens police officer, Oct. 18, 2015.

At issue, Marrero says, is the fact that while defendants in a criminal case have the right not to testify to protect themselves against self-incrimination, staying silent in a civil case can be used against a defendant and – in Raja’s case – result in a sure loss.

“Officer Raja faces the choice of defending the civil suit under the threat of significant personal exposure in the criminal case or exercising his Fifth Amendment right and losing the civil case in summary proceedings,” Marerro wrote.

Marerro in his nine-page motion Thursday said civil rights attorney Daryl Parks, who is representing Jones father in the wrongful death suit, plans to object to halting the case.

Clinton Jones, Sr. Sued both Raja and his former employers, the City of Palm Beach Gardens. Gardens attorneys back in July in federal court documents anticipated that Raja’s attorneys would ask to stay the civil proceedings until the criminal case was over.

Palm Beach County clergy to hold sit-ins in protest of police shootings

042716-met-corey-jones-05_1Clergy members throughout Palm Beach County are expected on Thursday to lead four sit-ins at local city halls to call attention to the controversies surrounding police uses of force, particularly in light of the recent killings of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the five police officers killed in Dallas.

According to a news release, the sit-ins will begin at 3:30 p.m. simultaneously at city calls in Riviera Beach, West Palm Beach, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

One of the goals of the sit-in, community leaders said in the news release, is to “draw national attention to the abuse of power, as well as innocent people being unjustifiably arrested or killed by rogue police officers.”

 

Corey Jones’ family weighs in on recent police shootings

Clinton Jones Sr. speaks about his son, Corey Jones, during a press conference outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Thursday, October 22, 2015.
Clinton Jones Sr. speaks about his son, Corey Jones, during a press conference outside the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Thursday, October 22, 2015.

The shooting deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in separate encounters with police on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively came just as Palm Beach Gardens police on Wednesday released 911 calls in former officer Nouman Raja’s October shooting of motorist Corey Jones.

Jones’ family on Wednesday also filed a wrongful death suit against both the city and Raja, who prosecutors last month charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted murder in Jones’ death.

Jones father, Clinton Jones, Sr. and his stepmother, Katie Jones, released the following letter Thursday to Castile’s mother Valerie, through their attorneys:

Valerie:
It is with broken hearts that we must reach out to you regarding the tragic shooting death of your dear son, Philando Castile. As we watched the news coverage today, we noticed an all too familiar resemblance to the October police shooting that took the life of our dear son, Corey Jones.

 

Philando Castile, killed Wednesday during a traffic stop with a police officer.
Philando Castile, killed Wednesday during a traffic stop with a police officer.

We believe it is our duty to reach out to you to let you know that we stand with and are praying for you during this most difficult time. While we are certain that all of us would have chosen a different path, God recognized our strength and chose us for this path. We want you to know that you do not have to walk this path alone. Although we may live several states away, and may only share the common thread of having lost a son due to the senseless killing by a police officer, we want to lend our support to you in whatever way you may see fit.
As we await the criminal trial of the officer who killed our son, we have gathered strength from the love and support of those who support our mission to hold law enforcement officials accountable for their actions. However, I am compelled to tell you that the road to justice is not easy. The pain you feel now is unimaginable and at times will feel intolerable, but through it all we must not, and we cannot lose hope.
Your son’s life mattered. Our son’s life mattered. We must demand that something change! We must demand justice!
Clinton Jones, Sr. and Kattie Jones
The Parents of Corey Lamar Jones

Clinton "C.J." Jones, Jr., walks into his brother Corey Jones' funeral at Payne A.M.E. Chapel on October 31, 2015.
Clinton “C.J.” Jones, Jr., walks into his brother Corey Jones’ funeral at Payne A.M.E. Chapel on October 31, 2015.

The parents’ letter comes hours after Clinton “C.J.” Jones, Jr., brother of Corey Jones took to social media and posted the message below to Sterling’s family:

TO THE FAMILY OF ‪#‎ALTONSTERLING‬

CJ Jones: THE BROTHER OF COREY JONES.

My family and I are extremely saddened to see another abuse-of-power murder by overly aggressive police officers who lack compassion and patience for those whose job it is to protect and serve: the community.

Sunlight, as they say, is the best sanitation; and the light should shine brightest from the top down. Nothing confuses and angers a community more than to be unable to distinguish the police from those the police are tasked to protect us from.

Our family knows the heartache the Sterling Family is experiencing and we will pray for their healing to start. However, we do not demand the diminishing of any anger you may feel for this crime – that too is justified.

Alton Sterling, killed in a confrontation with police in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday July 5, 2016.
Alton Sterling, killed in a confrontation with police in Baton Rouge, La., on Tuesday July 5, 2016.

We do ask that as the justifiable anger grows in our communities across the country and more specifically in Baton Rouge, that people think rationally before acting. Though we have suffered far too long from these SENSELESS acts of terror from American law enforcement, our actions will determine future acts of aggression towards us. So please be sensible.

Honest officers and honest people in influential positions can stop this if they’d only show the same degree of courage and commitment for those in their communities as they do for those in ours. They must simply value our lives as much as they do their own.

We cannot deny that the racial fractures in our society are mostly to blame for this police phenomenon. And though we as a nation have had 150 years to change these ways, it’s not people of color who are stagnant in this evolution. Police are behaving the same way they always have.

The video speaks for itself. The people speak for themselves. These officers’ actions speak for themselves.

At some point law enforcement and the justice system will listen. CHANGE WILL COME!

CJ Jones (R.I.H COREY JONES 10-18-2015)

Nouman Raja’s case assigned to Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer

060316+raja+first+appearance+04Nouman Raja’s attempted murder and manslaughter case in the Oct. 18 death of Corey Jones has been assigned to first-term felony circuit judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer.

According to court records, Raja – who was released from jail early Friday after prosecutors announced his arrest Wednesday – will be arraigned June 14 at the Palm Beach County Jail. But after that, Feuer will preside over all hearings in the case, including an eventual trial or plea.

Raja, 38,  was a Palm Beach Gardens Police officer working a plainclothes burglary detail when he shot Jones, a  31-year-old drummer whose car had broken down on Interstate 95 on his way home from a gig. He faces up to 15 years in prison on the manslaughter charge but up to life in prison if convicted on attempted first degree murder.

Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)
Corey Jones, who was shot on Oct. 11, 2014. (Post file photo)

The case is easily the highest-profile matter Feuer has handled in her two years on the bench, although she has tried both a number of capital felony cases as well as cases against police officers accused of committing crimes on duty.

In September, less than a month before Jones’ death, Feuer presided over the trial of former Boynton Beach Police officer Stephen Maiorino, who a jury acquitted in the alleged 2014 rape of a 20-year-old woman while on duty.

Feuer was elected to a six year term in 2014, when she ran unopposed to replace Judge Sandra McSorley. Before taking the bench, she worked as a civil attorney and also as a civil prosecutor with Florida’s Attorney General.

 

Corey Jones shooting: Nouman Raja posts bail, will stay overnight in jail

UPDATE 4:25 p.m.: Nouman Raja will spend another night in the Palm Beach County Jail, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s official.

Raja has met his $250,000 bond set Thursday morning, but he remains in jail while his home is outfitted to meet the requirements of house arrest, the official said.

Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Ex-officer Nouman Raja, charged with the shooting death of Corey Jones, enters court Thursday morning, June 2, 2016. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

» RELATED: More coverage of the Corey Jones shooting

“It’s really just moving him from one cell to another cell,” the official said.

Raja, facing charges of manslaughter by culpable negligence and attempted first-degree murder, is expected to leave the jail Friday.

— Staff writer Jorge Milian

UPDATE 1:40 p.m.: Former officer Nouman Raja remains in custody at the Palm Beach County Jail while the sheriff’s office sets up a monitoring system at his suburban Lake Worth home, a sheriff’s spokesperson said.

It isn’t yet clear whether Raja has posted bail, or when the monitoring system will be set up. Once the system is in place, Raja will be transported by deputies from the jail to his home, where he will remain on house arrest.

ORIGINAL STORY: A Palm Beach County judge on Thursday morning set bond for the former police officer who shot and killed musician Corey Jones at $250,000.

Nouman Raja appeared in handcuffs and blue prison garb before Circuit Judge Joseph Marx. Raja was arrested Wednesday and charged with first degree attempted murder and manslaughter by culpable negligence.

Other terms of Raja’s release: He is on house arrest with a GPS monitor, must surrender his passport, cannot work in law enforcement, must surrender any guns to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and must have no contact with the Jones family or with the Palm Beach Gardens Police Department.

Raja’s arraignment has been set for June 14 at 1:30 p.m.

Before Raja, 38, entered court, it was announced that prosecutors and Raja’s attorney, Richard Lubin, had reached an agreement on Raja’s bail.

Raja’s brother, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy Adnan Raja, sat in a bench on one side of the courtroom, while friends and family members of Jones sat on the other side.

This hearing comes less than a day after Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced that a grand jury had deemed Raja’s actions in Jones’ Oct. 18 shooting death unjustified, and that Aronberg’s office subsequently charged with the two felony counts for which he could face up to life in prison if convicted of both.

Raja was in plainclothes and drove an unmarked van when he approached Jones’ broken-down car on Interstate 95.

According to Raja’s arrest report, he never identified himself as a police officer and started shooting at Jones — who was on the phone with a roadside assistance call center — after repeatedly asking him if he was “good” before shouting at him to get his hands up.

Jones’ family members will hold a news conference at the courthouse at 11:30 a.m.

PBSO agrees to pay for not turning over data in suit over Seth Adams’ death

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $15,000 for not immediately turning over GPS data to show where various officers were when Loxahatchee Groves resident Seth Adams was shot dead by Sgt. Michael Custer four years ago.

Seth Adams, 24, in Loxahatchee Groves. Fatal. Photograph dated May 1, 2012. He was killed by a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office deputy outside his home on May 17, 2012.
Seth Adams, 24, was fatally shot by a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputy outside his home on May 17, 2012.

“I thought $15,000 was very reasonable,” said attorney Wallace McCall, who represents Adams’ family in a civil lawsuit against Custer and the sheriff’s office. “We spent a lot of time proving the GPS existed and trying to get them to turn it over.”

The failure of the agency to turn over the GPS data is one of several instances where the agency has failed to turn over key evidence, McCall said.

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley is still deciding whether to sanction the agency for not preserving the cell phone Custer was using on May 17, 2012 when  he shot the unarmed 24-year-old as Adams was returning to his family’s garden center on A Road, where he also lived.

After a hearing in March, Hurley said he was torn between whether the agency acted in bad faith or was “extraordinarily negligent” when it lost the phone, knowing it had to be preserved. He said he needed time to do additional research.

While the agency also destroyed Custer’s laptop, Hurley ruled that it was not done intentionally. Rather, he said, it was destroyed because the officer was in line for a new computer. Old laptops are routinely thrown out, sheriff’s officials testified.

Hurley said McCall was clearly entitled to the GPS data to show the locations of other officers who were working with Custer the night Adams was shot. After McCall argued that the agency had repeatedly denied the records existed when it was clear they did, Hurley agreed McCall should be paid for the extra time he spent trying to get them.

In court papers, the sheriff’s office and McCall agreed to the $15,000 payment.

 

 

Corey Jones family to hold rally at burial site

Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.
Corey Jones, a 31-year-old drummer and property manager, was shot to death Oct. 18.

The family of Corey Jones, the 31-year-old drummer and stranded motorist fatally shot by a police officer last year, will mark the seven-month anniversary of his death Wednesday with a rally at his burial site.

The rally will begin at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Boynton Beach Mausoleum, 1611 S. Seacrest Blvd. Jones family attorney Kweku Darfoor last week said the gathering will offer a chance for Jones’ cousins and other younger members of his family to publicly express their grief.

Last month, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg announced plans to allow a grand jury to decide whether Raja should face criminal charges – a move that dismayed family members and community leaders who had hoped Aronberg would skip that process and use his power to charge Raja directly.

Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.
Palm Beach Gardens police officer Nouman Raja shot and killed Corey Jones, 31, on an Interstate 95 off ramp at PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens on Oct. 18, 2015.

Jones, 31, was on his way home from a gig on Oct. 18 when his car broke down on Interstate 95 at the southbound PGA Boulevard exit. Palm Beach Gardens Police Officer Nouman Raja, who was working a burglary prevention detail in plainclothes, drove up on Jones in an unmarked van and eventually shot him three times.

Raja, who was on probation with the department and has since been fired, said he shot Jones because he believed he was coming towards him with a gun.

Rally protesting Corey Jones case decision cancelled

State Attorney Dave Aronberg addresses members of the media during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday April 27, 2016. Aronberg announced during a news conference Wednesday that his office would continue its investigation of former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the shooting death of musician Corey Jones. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
State Attorney Dave Aronberg addresses members of the media during a press conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., Wednesday April 27, 2016. Aronberg announced during a news conference Wednesday that his office would continue its investigation of former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja in the shooting death of musician Corey Jones. (Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT

Community leaders have cancelled a planned rally Thursday to protest Palm Beach State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s decision to refer to a grand jury the case of the police officer who shot Corey Jones.

The event, which was planned even before Aronberg announced last week that a grand jury panel will decide whether Nouman Raja will face criminal charges by the end of next month, was to come just days after the group Anonymous threatened Aronberg with calls and protests of their own unless he changed course.

Community leaders advertised the rally to be held at the Palm Beach State Attorneys office but announced online that it had been canceled. As of Thursday, no new date had been set.

Raja shot and killed Jones Oct. 18 after the now-fired officer drove up on him in the off-ramp of interstate 95 at PGA Boulevard. Jones’ SUV had broken down while he was on his way home from a professional drumming gig.

The State Attorney’s office and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputies began immediately investigating the shooting, and the FBI joined the probe soon afterward.

Prosecutors could have concluded on their own that Raja should face no criminal charges but could have also skipped the grand jury process and charged him directly. Community leaders after Aronberg’s decision said they felt he should have charged Raja.

A Facebook post Friday from the group Anonymous Florida threatened to flood Aronberg’s phones and social media outlets with messages if he didn’t either resign or charge Raja by Wednesday.

Aronberg so far has declined to comment on the group’s ultimatum.

 

PBSO to federal judge: Race card spurred $22.4 million verdict

Claiming lawyers representing Dontrell Stephens improperly played the race card to win a $22.4 million verdict against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Adams Lin, sheriff’s attorneys on Monday will ask a federal magistrate to reduce the award.

An attorney from Searcy Denney Scarola, Barnhart & Shipley pushes Dontrell Stephens as he heads into the U.S. Federal Courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale on Jan. 28, 2016. Dontrell Stephens, who became a paraplegic after being shot in the chest by Sgt. Adams Lin in September 2013, claims the Palm Beach County sheriff's deputy used excessive force during the incident. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)
Attorney Patrick Quinlan pushes Dontrell Stephens into the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale during the trial this year. (Richard Graulich / The Palm Beach Post)

Throughout the trial that ended in February, Stephens’s lawyers repeatedly implied that the 2013 shooting that left the 22-year-old West Palm Beach man paralyzed from the waist down was racially motivated, sheriff’s attorneys Summer Barranco and Richard Giuffreda contend in court papers.

Stephens’ attorneys made reference to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which grew in response to police shootings of black men throughout the nation, Barranco wrote.

“It was clear that (Stephens’) counsel wanted the jury to see this case as another one of those egregious cases they had seen in the media where a cop shot an unarmed young black man for no good reason,” she wrote.

The racial overtones inflamed the jury, spurring them to act on passion and prejudice rather than reason, she claims.

Further, she wrote, while Stephens may be paralyzed, he is not bed-ridden nor does he require round-the-clock nursing care.

“The testimony in this case showed … he was actually able to do quite a lot  for himself,” Barranco wrote, pointing out that he can transfer himself from a bed to a wheelchair and can wheel himself around without assistance.

Attorney Jack Scarola, who represents Stephens, scoffed at Barranco’s attempt to put what he called “a positive spin” on Stephens’ injuries. “The cold harsh reality is that a healthy, active 20-year-old man was sentenced to over half a century in a wheelchair, unable to move from the waist down,” he wrote.

Lin shot Stephens seconds after stopping him for riding his bicycle erratically in morning rush-hour traffic on Haverhill Road. The shooting was captured on a video camera on Lin’s dashboard.

In closing arguments, Scarola told jurors that “Dontrell Stephens’ life mattered.” If Barranco or Giuffreda didn’t like it, they should have objected at the time, he wrote.

The verdict was rendered by a “intelligent, attentive and diligent jury that was fully qualified to assess the damages sustained by Dontrell Stephens,” he wrote. Contrary to Barranco’s assertions, he insisted they weren’t driven by passion or prejudice but powerful facts.

The hearing before U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer is to begin at 2 p.m.