Stephens, who was unarmed and had been riding his bicycle in a West Palm Beach neighborhood, was shot within 7 seconds of a deputy pulling up behind him.
Dontrell Stephens, who was shot by Palm Beach Sheriff’s deputies in in 2013, will receive $6 million as part of a settlement approved Tuesday by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the settlement is part of a claim bill signed by DeSantis. Claim bills, in Florida, authorize large settlements between local government and private parties.
The claim bill’s passage effectively ends Stephens’ seven-year legal battle with Palm Beach authorities.
Stephens, says the Tampa Bay Times, was riding his bicycle through a West Palm Beach neighborhood when a sheriff’s deputy pulled up behind him. In less than ten seconds, the deputy exited his vehicle, drew his firearm, and shot Stephens four times.
Deputy Adams Lin later said that Stephens had refused commands to raise his arms—a lack of response which, somehow, prompted Lin to open fire.
Stephens is now permanently paralyzed from the waist down, and will likely face a lifetime of recurring medical treatment and associated fees.
Helen Aguirre Ferré, a spokesperson for the governor’s office, said DeSantis approved the bill and settlement because it was the right thing to do.
“The relief bills for Dontrell Stephens and Clifford Williams had bipartisan support and were signed by Governor DeSantis because it was the right thing to do,” Ferré said.
The bill, adds the Tampa Bay Times, received almost unanimous support in the Florida House and Senate, with legislators voting 152-2 in favor of the agreement. Only two Republican senators voted against the accord.
The Times notes that the bill’s passage is somewhat unprecedented. Gov. DeSantis himself has a “mixed” record on criminal justice, especially as it pertains to police brutality against ethnic minorities. Although DeSantis has criticized the Minneapolis police officer complicit in the killing of George Floyd, he has not advocated extensive reform—and neither did he provide comment on Stephens’ predicament until the bill hit his desk this past Tuesday.
Moreover, Republican lawmakers have historically been miserly in approving settlements with local governments. Florida law, says the Times, requires lawmakers to approve such agreements whenever gross settlement amounts exceed $200,000.
However, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw appears partially responsible—not because he favored a settlement, but because his attempts to malign Stephens offended legislators from both parties. Bradshaw purportedly refused to pay Stephens any settlement amount, while attempting to portray Stephens—an African-American man with a history of petty drug offenses—as a criminal undeserving of recompense.
“The insinuation was there that he wasn’t a Boy Scout, so why should the sheriff give him any money?” Rep. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) said. “And that caused a major backlash from the House.”
“No one here would want to be sentenced to a wheelchair for the rest of your life for riding a bike in the morning,” Flores said.
But Stephens’ attorney, Jack Scarola, said the settlement was far smaller than what either he or his client had been hoping to obtain.
“However, the bill will at least enable Dontrell to avoid having to worry about where his next meal will come from, and he will finally be able to access medical care necessary to his survival,” Scarola said in a statement.
Scarola suggested that Stephens’ case is indicative of how desperately police reform is needed in Florida.
“This case is a perfect illustration of the injustices associated with Florida’s sovereign immunity laws and the entire claim bill process,” he said. “Existing laws cry out for reform and modernization, so the future victims of government abuse and neglect are not forced to endure what Dontrell has gone through.”