JUST IN: Seth Adams case gets a new judge, new date for second trial

Richard and Lydia Adams with attorney Wallace McCall at the Federal Courthouse in West Palm Beach on March 30, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

The retrial of the multi-million-dollar lawsuit against Palm Beach County sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer in the 2012 shooting death of Seth Adams will be held before a different federal judge as early as July 10.

Seth Adams

In an order signed Monday, U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley, who presided over the trial that ended  last month with a hung jury, assigned the case to his colleague, federal Judge Donald Middlebrooks.

Hurley, who reportedly planned to retire before the summer, had scheduled the second trial to begin Oct. 10. But, in the order, he said attorneys for Adams’ parents and the sheriff’s office  indicated they wanted it to be held sooner. Both sides agreed to a July 10 start, he said.

Middlebrooks agreed to hear the case, Hurley wrote. He told the attorneys to consult with Middlebrooks’ staff to see if the trial could be held sooner.

PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer

After a month-long trial, the nine jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict about whether Custer used excessive force when he fatally shot the 23-year-old as Adams returned to A One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee Groves, where he lived and worked with his brother and sister-in-law.

Attorney Wallace McCall, who talked to some of the jurors after the trial, said he was told there was one hold out. He had sought $10 million to $20 million for Lydia and Richard Adams, claiming Custer lied when he said Adams attacked him and the sheriff’s office helped him cover up the truth.

The sheriff’s office has said that Custer, who was working undercover on the night of the shooting, was in fear for his life.

Prosecutors, clerks to host workshop on sealing, expunging records

tmpNSWfqS-mdly-photoRemember that old criminal charge you’ve always wanted to get removed from your record?

The Palm Beach County court system has a workshop for that.

Officials from the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s office, Palm Beach County Clerk of Court and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office on Thursday will host a second sealing and expunging workshop for people seeking to have an arrest removed from their record.

Sheriff’s officials in a flyer list eligible participants as people who were ever charged with a crime in a Palm Beach County case that did not result in conviction, adding that people who fit that criteria may be able to a get a single arrest record sealed or expunged.

“Our community becomes safer when those who are eligible under the law for sealing and expungement can get their lives back on track and become successful members of our society,” Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said in a press release this week.

The workshop will be held Thursday on the first floor of the main courthouse at 205 North Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach, from 3:00 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Workshop attendees should bring the following:

  1. A Florida driver’s license, Florida issued photo I.D. or U.S. Passport.
  2. A completed “State Attorney’s Preliminary Application for Sealing/Expungement Eligibility,” which can be found at sa15.org.
  3. Any copies of old paperwork available on the arrest. If the case occurred before 2008, call ahead so the clerk has a few days to locate the old file.

For more questions, contact Angel at 561-355-7373 or Lidis at 561-355-7313

Deputy who guarded John Goodman gets go-ahead in suit against PBSO

A Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy can proceed with her lawsuit, claiming she was unfairly disciplined by Sheriff Ric Bradshaw for simply telling the truth about a strange incident involving now-imprisoned Wellington polo mogul John Goodman, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw at the site of a deputy-involved shooting that critically injured a person Thursday morning, July 30, 2015, on Lakewood Road near South Military Trail in Palm Springs. PBSO said a deputy shot a person at 5:15 a.m. (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw (Lannis Waters / The Palm Beach Post)

The 4th District Court of Appeal rejected Bradshaw’s request to toss out the lawsuit filed by Deputy Bridgette Bott. She was  one of Goodman’s security guards when he was on house arrest before he was convicted a second time of DUI manslaughter in the 2010 crash that killed 23-year-old Scott Wilson.

ID Photo
ID Photo

Bradshaw argued that Bott should have sought administrative relief before filing a lawsuit. The appeals court ruled that none was available.

In a lawsuit filed by attorney Sid Garcia, Bott claims she was unfairly docked 40 hours pay when she didn’t side with other deputies who said Goodman in 2012 tried to disable his ankle monitor while on house arrest.  In addition, she claims she was banned from the lucrative security detail that Goodman was forced to bankroll as a condition of being allowed to stay out of jail.

Ultimately, Circuit Judge Jeffrey Colbath ruled that there was insufficient evidence that Goodman had tried to break the monitor and allowed him to remain on house arrest. Goodman, heir to a Texas air conditioning and heating business, is serving a 16-year prison sentence.

Man charged with Royal Palm teen’s kidnapping gets jail


One of several young men charged with abducting a 16-year-old boy and ransacking his Royal Palm Beach home accepted a plea agreement Wednesday that will send him to jail for a year.

Derick Santos, 19, pleaded guilty to burglary, robbery and false imprisonment charges in a hearing where Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes also sentenced him to four years’ probation as part of the deal between Assistant State  Attorney Emily Walters and defenses attorney Michael Salnick.

As part of the agreement, Kastrenakes withheld a finding a guilt against Santos and sentenced him as a youthful offender, although he will serve his sentence at the Palm Beach County jail.

According t he arrest reports, Santos and four others were together in a car when they pulled up to the 16-year-old along 11300 block of Okeechobee Boulevard in Royal Palm Beach.

After one of them forced him into the car,  investigators said, the group stole his cell phone and $200 and unsuccessfully tried to get him to lure a mutual acquaintence to their car as well.

They then beat the boy until he gave them directions to his own house, where they eventually forced the boy to help them break in when they discovered he had no key.

The group stole a shotgun, a television, an Xbox and ransacked the boy’s parents’ bedroom before they left, and the victim ran to a neighbor’s house to call 911.

Another teen charged in the case, Shahyem Hamilton, received a sentence of five years’ probation after accepting a plea earlier this year. A third, Naquan Mack, was sentenced to 24 months in a juvenile boot camp.

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.



Anonymous to Dave Aronberg: Change your mind about Corey Jones case – or else

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

The Florida chapter of the activist network Anonymous wants Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg to know they’re unhappy with his decision to refer the case of the officer who shot Corey Jones to a grand jury – and that’s not all.

If he doesn’t change his mind about the decision, according to a Friday post on the loosely associated group’s facebook page, they plan to launch a campaign flooding his phones, emails and social networks with calls, messages and posts urging him to either change his decision about former Palm Beach Gardens officer Nouman Raja or step down from office.

Raja has been the subject of a criminal investigation ever since he shot and killed Jones, a stranded motorist waiting for a tow truck after a professional drumming gig, on Oct. 18. While Jones family and community leaders had asked Aronberg to exercise his power to file charges directly against Raja, Aronberg announced last week that he would refer the case to a grand jury, saying that it was customary in officer-involved shootings where questions remain after the initial investigation.

Aronberg had until Monday, May 2, to respond to the group’s demands.

“Choose wisely Aronberg, elections is [sic] right around the corner,” the posts reads, a reference to the fact that the first-term state attorney is up for reelection this year.

The group says it plans to escalate its campaign against Aronberg later this month if the emails and calls don’t work.

“If you still have not listened to the state of Florida, we as well as activists around the state shall see you at your doorstep on May 20th,” the post reads. “You should of [sic] expected this.”

State Attorney’s office spokesman Mike Edmondson declined to comment on the recent threats, but they are nothing new to the area’s top prosecutor.

When Aronberg mulled whether to press battery charges against Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, he later told reporters said he received an avalanche of threats from individuals and groups across the country.

Aronberg ultimately declined to pursue charges against Lewandowski.

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.



PBSO settles another lawsuit, accusing deputy of using excessive force

For the second time in a month, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a lawsuit filed in connection with a deputy-involved shooting.

Victor Arango, 26, in Boynton Beach. Fatal. Victor Arango with his daughter, Anylah, at Lion Country Safari, the week before Arango was killed by a PBSO deputy outside of the 1st & 10 Sports Bar and Grill. photo courtesy of family
Victor Arango, 26, with his daughter, Anylah, shortly before he was killed by a PBSO deputy. (Family photo)

In a deal inked in U.S. District Court this week, the agency agreed to pay $325,000 to settle a lawsuit, accusing Deputy Michael Suszczynski of using excessive force in 2012 when he shot and killed 26-year-old Victor Arango outside 1st and 10 Sports Bar & Grill in suburban Boynton Beach.

As part of the settlement, a sheriff’s spokeswoman said the agency also agreed to pay $25,000 to establish a college fund for Arango’s young daughter. The wrongful death lawsuit was filed against the sheriff’s office by the girl’s mother, Arango’s girlfriend, Karen Perez.

Late last month, the sheriff’s office agreed to pay $300,000 to Aldo Alvarez, a mentally ill Royal Palm Beach man, who was shot and wounded by off-duty deputy Joshua McGehee in 2013. The deputy’s insurance carrier agreed to pay Alvarez and his parents another $300,000, said attorney Stuart Kaplan, who represented the Alvarezes in the lawsuit.

Earlier this year, the agency agreed to pay nearly $1 million to settle two other cases involving deputy shooting.

Check back for further updates.


PBSO agrees to pay $300,000 for shooting mentally ill Royal Palm man

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the family of a 39-year-old mentally ill Royal Palm Beach man who was shot by an off-duty deputy when he wandered into the officer’s garage.

A homeowner’s insurance company for Deputy Joshua McGehee agreed to pay another $300,000 to Aldo Alvarez, who survived the May 2013 shooting, said Stuart Kaplan, who represents the Alvarez family in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court.

Aldo Alvarez, (L), listens as his mother Ana, (C), speaks about a chance encounter with Palm Beach County Sheriff's Deputy Joshau McGehee, following the shooting of her son at the hands of McGehee, during a press conference also attended by Raul Alvarez, (R), Aldo's dad and with their attorney R. Wayne Richter, (not in photo), Wednesday morning Aug 14, 2013, in West Palm Beach.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)
Aldo Alvarez listens as his mother, Ana, and father, Raul, describe how he was shot by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Joshua McGehee.(Bill Ingram/Palm Beach Post)

The settlement came as Kaplan pressed the agency to release records that he claimed would show McGehee was unfit to work as a law enforcement officer.

In court papers, Kaplan claimed that McGehee suffered from Tourette’s syndrome or some other “psychological and/or neurological disorder,” but was hired because his mother is Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s administrative assistant.

Routine psychological tests were waived because of McGehee’s connection to Bradshaw, Kaplan claimed in court papers.

Lawyers for the sheriff’s office weren’t immediately available for comment.

Alvarez’s parents hope to use the money to get their son vocational training so he may one day live independently, Kaplan said.

Charged with battery on a law enforcement officer and burglary with assault or battery after he was shot six times by McGehee, Alvarez was declared incompetent to stand trial. While no longer on house arrest, he can’t leave his house without his mother and father, according to terms set by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Joseph Marx.

At a minimum, Kaplan said he is hoping to relax that restriction. He said he will also try to persuade state prosecutors to drop the charges in light of the settlement of the civil lawsuit. The prosecution is on hold until psychologists agree Alvarez is capable of understanding the charges he faces.

McGehee, who lived across the street from Alvarez and his parents, claimed he was forced to shoot. Alvarez, he claimed, entered his garage, cornered him and ignored his repeated orders to leave. State Attorney Dave Aronberg found the shooting justified.

But, Kaplan argued in court papers, the evidence disputes McGehee’s account. The bullets were fired toward the house, he said. Alvarez, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia shortly after graduating from high school, was just trying to welcome a new neighbor, he said.

Editor’s Note: Because of incomplete information provided by attorney Stuart Kaplan an earlier version of this story said the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was paying the full $600,000 settlement.