Seven years after Dontrell Stephens was shot and permanently paralyzed by a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy, he will be receiving a larger multi-million-dollar payout as compensation for his injuries than initially planned.
The Florida Legislature passed a bill on Wednesday ordering Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to pay the 26-year-old homeless West Palm Beach man up to $6 million.
Although the amount is significantly less than the $22.5 million a federal jury had recommended, Stephens’ attorney, Jack Scarola, says, “The fact that a Republican legislature, that historically has been opposed to claims bills, passed it as overwhelmingly as they did, shows it was deserved.”
The state Senate passed the bill by a 37-2 vote late Wednesday afternoon, two days after the lower chamber approved it by a vote of 160-0.
The amount gives Stephens $1.5 million more than what Bradshaw agreed to pay in what he described as his “final” offer.
After the final $4.5 million offer was made, legal questions were raised about whether the state legislature could cover bills that Stephens received while he was in rehabilitation and was being treated for potentially fatal bed sores that plague paraplegics, according to Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican who sponsored the measure.
For that reason, the bill was amended so that Bradshaw would have to use up to $1.5 million of tax money to in order cover Stephens’ unpaid bills.
Stephens’ guardian will use about $3.4 million to purchase an annuity that could generate interest to cover Stephens’ living expenses, the measure explains.
Another $1.1 million will go to Scarola’s law firm and other parties, including lobbyists, who worked together on the case.
Scarola says his client will need more than $6 million. Since Stephens is expected to live another 50 years, he would $5 million in order to lead a semblance of a normal life for his condition, according to an expert who testified during the 2016 civil trial of the case in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale.
The $3.4 million state lawmakers agreed to will provide some stability and security for Stephens, who had been living in a homeless shelter but is now sleeping on a friend’s couch, according to Scarola.
The attorney adds that Stephens accumulated more than $3 million in bills from a Central Florida rehabilitation center, as well as doctors and hospitals that have treated him since he was shot by Deputy Adams Lin back in 2013.
The deputy, who was later promoted to sergeant, shot Stephens a total of four times, moments after stopping him for riding his bicycle erratically on Haverhill Road in West Palm Beach.
Although Lin testified that he thought Stephens was reaching for a gun, Stephens was unarmed. The black object he was holding at the time was a cellphone.
Scarola will seek to reduce Stephens’ existing bills to $1.5 million by negotiating with those who are owed money.