The Senate approved a measure Wednesday offering $4.5 million to Dontrell Stephens after Stephens was shot in 2013 by Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Adams Lin.
That shooting left Stephens paralyzed and in a wheelchair. He is now homeless.
The House had already approved the bill (HB 6501), meaning the measure will now head to Gov. Ron DeSantis. Stephens will receive nearly $3.4 million directly, while the remaining sum will go toward legal expenses.
“Mr. Stephens’ testimony, corroborated by video from Deputy Lin’s dashboard camera and physical evidence at the scene, establishes that the only offense committed by Mr. Stephens was a noncriminal bicycle infraction, that he was unarmed, and that he posed no reasonable threat to Deputy Lin,” the claims bill reads.
The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office has disputed that characterization, arguing Lin mistook Stephens’ cell phone for a handgun. The claims bill noted that testimony was found “not credible” at trial.
A jury trial found Stephens was entitled to $22.5 million. Stephens’ attorneys have fought for at least $15 million to be paid out.
The House and Senate fought back and forth over the exact compensation package. At one point, the House offered to pay the entire $22.5 million, but the Senate refused to budge.
GOP Sen. Anitere Flores, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (SB 4), pushed for a higher payout but ultimately agreed to the $4.5 million number.
“Throughout my public service career, claims bills have been a focus because frankly the process is antiquated, flawed and overly political. Unjustifiable lawlessness against victims, deserves justice,” Flores said in a statement following the bill’s passage.
“Today, Dontrell Stephens is getting a fraction of true justice. Far from the $22.5 million settlement a federal jury said Stephens deserves, the $4.5 million compensation package will provide some aid to a man serving a life sentence as a paraplegic for having committed no crime. I thank my Senate colleagues for voting on the side of justice today, and I look forward to Governor DeSantis signing this into law.”
Republican Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin put forward the House version of the bill, which ultimately passed. He too issued a statement late Wednesday.
“With HB 6501, the Florida House of Representatives did the right thing by forcing the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to be held responsible for a situation they created,” Fernandez-Barquin said.
“A jury found the Sheriff’s Office responsible. We reinforced and reiterated the jury’s message by passing this claims bill.”