Palm Beach County, FL - In an unprecedented move, a defense attorney viciously went after Palm Beach County Sgt. Adam Lin's property to collect on a $22.4 million settlement awarded by a jury in February, 2016.
According to The Palm Beach Post, Sgt. Adam Lin's personal property, including his car, clothes, television, furniture, two dogs, a cat, and a fish tank filled with fish were seized on Saturday January 7, 2017 by U.S. Marshals. The unprecedented and uncalled for move was orchestrated by defense attorney Jack Scarola, who represented suspect Dontrell Stephens. Scarola met with and persuaded U.S. Magistrate Barry Seltzer to issue an order that allowed Sgt. Lin's personal property to be seized and sold, and the amount used to help pay off the settlement. Sgt. Lin was not notified of U.S. Magistrate's Seltzer's decision by law and knew nothing about the decision until the U.S. Marshals showed up.
Stephens was awarded the $22.4 million settlement by a federal jury, who ruled that a 2013 traffic stop involving Sgt. Adam Lin and Stephens, involved excessive force. The jury's decision came in the wake of the Ferguson incident involving Michael Brown's death, and can likely be attributed to what is being called "the Ferguson effect." Essentially, the concept involves decisions made against Officers after the Ferguson incident which rule in favor of the black defendant despite the stated facts of the case.
However, the jury decision was against the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, not Sgt. Adam Lin, who remains with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office and has since been promoted, He was cleared after the shooting investigation of all criminal wrongdoing and also of any agency violations by investigators from the State Attorney's Office and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office.
John Kazanjian, president of the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association , was outraged by the Magistrate's decision and said that in 37 years of law enforcement that he had never heard of seizing an officer's belongings to be sold at auction to satisfy a verdict. He also said “It makes us have to think every time when we go out to do our job: Are we going to be civilly liable? Do we have to rent all of our property? This is a bad, bad precedent.”
In 2013, then Palm Beach County Officer Adam Lin, also a minority, confronted Stephens after seeing him weave his bike in and out of heavy traffic on Haverhill Road. Sgt. Lin testified during the trial that he believed Stephens' erratic behavior signaled that he was going to run, and often suspects flee when exhibiting similar behavior. He stopped Stephens and had one hand on his Taser because of the way that Stephens got off of the bicycle. Sgt. Lin said that based on his training, he was prepared for a foot pursuit. Instead, Stephens dropped his hands and began fumbling with something in his back pocket.
Sgt. Adam Lin, believing that Stephens had a gun, testified that he feared for his life and shot Stephens, who was paralyzed and remains a quadriplegic. He testified that given the same situation again, he would have done the same thing again, based on what he observed going on in front of him at that given moment and his training.
Sgt. Lin said that he was not responsible for what happened to Dontrell Stephens. When asked during the trial who was, he said "Mr. Stephens' actions."
Stephens' defense attorney blamed the Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw for the seizure of Sgt. Adam Lin's property and admitted that he was "playing hardball" with the Sheriff. He also said that he knew Sgt. Lin's property wasn't worth much and wouldn't bring much at auction. Jack Scarola said that if he could collect $100 for Dontrell Stephens, he would. Scarola had previously gone to court to attempt to seize Sgt. Lin's wages for Stephens. However, U.S. Magistrate Seltzer denied that request because more than 50 percent of his pay goes toward child support for his young daughter. This exempts Sgt. Lin's pay from garnishment.
Some local police officers have thought about holding a fundraiser for Sgt. Lin but are afraid to do so because any money raised could potentially be seized as well.
Even if the unreasonable verdict is upheld, the most that the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office would be responsible for is $200,000. Under Florida law that is the cap for a settlement and any higher amount would have to be presented before the state legislature, who would then have to pass a claims bill, lifting the cap.
Sgt. Adam Lin filed court papers on Thursday, and asked for his pets and belongings back. In his request, he cited state law that exempts $5,000 of personal items from seizure. In the request, Sgt. Lin stated that the total value of his clothes, furniture and sporting goods was $3,962. He set the value of his dogs and cat at $100, his saltwater tank and fish at $100, a computer at $400 and a 65-inch TV at $600. He also has a 2014 Dodge Challenger, which is worth $22,000, but Sgt. Lin estimated its worth at $1,000, because he owes more on the vehicle than it is worth.
The value of Sgt. Lin's belongings are likely less than the cost to pay the Marshals, storage fees, pet boarding, movers, and tow company, who would all get paid before Stephens. This would mean that Stephens would end up with none of the money and none of the lawsuit money paid off. The only thing that this seizure is likely to accomplish is to eliminate all of Sgt. Lin's property.
"I don't think we took any shoes and I don't think we took any underwear," the Sun-Sentinel reports that Jack Scarola said. But "shirts and pants and shorts are all gone, jackets." After taking all of Sgt. Lin's clothing besides his underwear, Scarola placed the blame for the seizure on the sheriff, “The sheriff was offered the opportunity to protect his employee and avoid the seizure,” Scarola said. “He declined not to do it.”
However, law enforcement sources tell us that Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office has been extremely supportive of Sgt. Lin, who has worked for the agency since 2004, and who is a military veteran. In 2016, the PBC SO offered an amount of $200,000, the largest amount that it could pay, to Stephens through his attorney Jack Scarola, with one request: to remove Sgt. Lin from the lawsuit then and in the future. Scarola refused to remove Sgt. Lin from the lawsuit, reserving the right to sue the deputy in the future. This is appears to us to be a case of an unscrupulous defense attorney "holding an agency hostage through its officer."
The seizure of Sgt. Adam Lin's property and the issue of the defense attorney going after Sgt. Lin personally is being forwarded to Florida Governor Rick Scott's office and then on to Washington, D.C. The jury's verdict is in mediation and the last amount offered, well over a million dollars, was refused. Scarola has said that Sheriff Bradshaw should pay the first installment of $200,000.
If this precedent is not overturned, it becomes extremely dangerous for any law enforcement officer and perhaps first responder, EMT/Paramedic, Firefighter and similar personnel. It sets historic precedent.
Sgt. Adam Lin did not go to work the day that Stephens was shot with the intent to do anyone bodily harm. He went to work that day the same as any day, with the commitment to serve and protect the citizens of Palm Beach County, that he was responsible for. Also, this decision by the federal magistrate could have disastrous effects on law enforcement officers and must be over-turned.
To attorney Jack Scarola: we don't see how you can sleep at night or look at yourself in the mirror. We have to wonder what your cut of this settlement is. Holding an agency hostage and going after its Deputy is actually pretty low. You give a new meaning to the definition of defense attorney.
Let's hope that that someone steps in, either at the state or federal level, with the authority to do something about this unjust action against a Deputy Sheriff.
Do you think attorney Jack Scarola's actions are fair? Please let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.