WEST PALM BEACH — In a scathing decision that leaves little doubt that Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s Sgt. Michael Custer gunned down and killed unarmed Loxahatchee civilian Seth Adams for no good reason in 2012, a federal court of appeals cleared the path for a trial in the lawsuit brought by Adams’ family against Custer and PBSO.
The case was headed for a trial during this year’s campaign for sheriff when Custer appealed a decision from the lower federal court not to grant him professional immunity in the shooting.
The appeal temporarily shut down the proceedings, which showcased hints of a coverup up within PBSO, and kept the sore subject out of the media while Sheriff Ric Bradshaw ran his reelection campaign for his fourth term.
But now, there is little doubt the potentially-embarrassing trial will indeed take place early next year.
In its decision, the local U.S. Court of Appeals For the 11th District contradicted most arguments set forth by PBSO, including that Adams attacked Custer and Custer had reasons to believe that Seth was armed.
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“Under the facts … (Custer) violated the Adams’ Fourth Amendment rights through his unreasonable use of deadly force,” the decision reads.
The decision cleared the way for Adams’ family to obtain a judgment not only against PBSO but also against Custer personally.
Federal judge Daniel Hurley, who has raked PBSO over the coals several times during hearings, is set to get his case back. Earlier this year, he described himself as “deeply concerned” about how the agency investigated its own.
Hurley blasted PBSO for its carelessness in the disappearance of Custer’s service phone and destruction of his computer.
The shooting was deemed justified by Bradshaw hours after it happened, and was found to be within agency policies by the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
One of the Adams family’s theories is that Custer was meeting his mistress in the darkened parking lot of its landscaping business when he was busted by Seth Adams.
Their argument escalated until Adams was gunned down.
The attitude of PBSO officials when it came to cooperating with the lawyers of Adams’ family had given the judge pause. Hurley said he was torn between the belief PBSO brass acted in “bad faith” or was “extraordinarily negligent.”
Bradshaw offered to settle the case with the family several times but Adams’ folks have refused, vowing to show all of PBSO’s warts in open court.