In 2013, Dontrell Stephens got confined to a wheelchair after he was shot in the spine by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy while making a run after he was stopped for riding his bike erratically. The deputy, who shot him four times, said he thought Stephens was holding a gun. It was, however, a cell phone.
Stephens, 27, who got paralyzed after the four-second confrontation, was awarded a $22 million settlement by a federal jury in 2016, but did not receive the funds as a result of a seven-year legal battle, The Palm Beach Post reports.
On Tuesday, however, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill awarding Stephens $6 million, subsequently bringing the legal standoff to an end. Though the amount is less than what the federal jury initially awarded Stephens, his attorney, Jack Scarola, said the funds will enable his client live a far more better life.
“It is very gratifying that our nearly decade-long journey to achieve some measure of justice on behalf of Dontrell Stephens has been brought to a satisfactory conclusion,” a statement from Scarola read. “The bill will enable Dontrell to avoid having to worry about where his next meal will come from, and he will finally be able to access the medical care necessary to his survival.”
The bill to award Stephens the settlement was passed by the Florida Legislature after Scarola took the case to the lawmakers due to the state’s sovereign immunity laws. Under the laws, victims of wrongdoing are entitled to only a $200,000 settlement from authorities. The legislature must pass a claims bill in situations where the settlement is more than the stipulated amount, according to The Palm Beach Post.
Though Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw reportedly tried getting lawmakers to reject the bill, it was passed by a majority of members of both chambers after Scarola agreed to take less than the $22 million. It was also more than Bradshaw’s “final offer” of $4.5 million.
“Existing laws cry out for reform and modernization, so that future victims of government abuse and neglect are not forced to endure what Dontrell has gone through,” Scarola said.
Stephens, at a point in time during the legal battle, lived in a homeless shelter and sometimes had to sleep on couches in his friends’ homes. He has also been suffering from occasional near-fatal sicknesses as a result of his condition and several operations, The Palm Beach Post further reports.
“You are out on the street in a wheelchair. Dontrell, for the last seven years, has relied on the charity of others,” Scarola said, according to WPTV-TV. “He was unjustly shot in the back, no justification for that whatsoever.”
Under the bill, $1.5 million will be used to foot Stephens’ outstanding medical bills. His guardian will be given $3.4 million to invest, with Stephens receiving around $8000 a month. Scarola, his law firm and lobbyists will receive the remaining $1.1 million.