The 2012 shooting of 24-year-old Seth Adams at the hands of a Palm Beach Sheriff's Office deputy has received new interest as a civil investigation by the family's attorney has renewed doubts about the police narrative of what led to the fatal encounter.
PBSO's story is that Sgt. Michael Custer, in undercover attire, was doing surveillance at the One Stop Garden Shop in Loxahatchee, which Adams' family owns and where Adams himself lived in a trailer on the property. Adams returned home after a night out and asked Custer what he was doing there. Words were exchanged, and, according to PBSO, Adams lunged at Custer, trying to choke him. Custer got away and warned Adams to get on the ground. But Adams reached for something in his car, which Custer feared could be a gun, so he shot Adams four times in the stomach and chest area, killing him. But there wasn't a gun -- Adams was completely unarmed.
Still, three months later, PBSO and the State Attorney's Office ruled that the shooting was justified and that Custer acted "within protocol."
There has long been doubts about PBSO's version of events. But now, those doubts are getting some validity as the Adams' family legal team gets ready for a civil lawsuit against PBSO.
"We're confident that the physical evidence totally contradicts Sgt. Custer's version of what happened," Wallace McCall, the Adams' family attorney, tells New Times. "PBSO did an inadequate and incomplete investigation, ignored physical evidence, and therefore ratified Custer's actions."
McCall hired Dennis Root, the investigator who helped cause enough reasonable doubt to get George Zimmerman off the hook for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
One main piece of evidence is a blood trail. Custer claimed he shot Adams as the victim reached into his truck, but a blood trail begins behind the truck and goes for about 300 feet away, indicating that Adams tried to get away and call for help.
There's also Custer's record. Although he was depicted as a cop with an impeccable record after the shooting (PBSO bragged about his providing security detail for House Speaker John Boehner in early 2012), he did have some issues. According to WPTV:
"Sergeant Custer has difficulty assessing critical incidents and making sound decisions under pressure," his lieutenant wrote in 2011.
In the review, Custer was described as "indecisive in critical situations" and adding that he "needs to improve his decision-making ability. After being promoted to supervisor, Custer was criticized as about a year. "He has not learned the necessary job skills to be effective at this assignment," wrote his supervisor.
Despite that critical review, Custer was left supervising one of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office's elite tactical units. A year later, he shot and killed Adams, who was unarmed.
And there's also speculation that Custer was with a girlfriend that night who might be a witness to the shooting.
One piece of evidence that is unavailable is camera footage. McCall tells us the surveillance cameras around the Adams' family business were not turned on that night, and Custer didn't have a dashcam in his vehicle.
Despite the other new pieces of evidence, State Attorney Dave Aronberg, who took office three months after the investigation was closed, said he's unlikely to consider reopening the investigation unless PBSO or one of his attorneys bring forth new evidence.
Washington Post columnist Radley Balko, who wrote about the Adams shooting, says the manner in which the case has been handled is another example of why people are questioning whether police and prosecutors they work with every day can be trusted to honestly evaluate their own wrongdoing.
As part of this discussion we're having about police shootings, we should be talking about the death of Seth Adams. http://t.co/WDcqk4RLIz— Radley Balko (@radleybalko) February 5, 2015
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