WEST PALM BEACH — The widow of Dirty Dancing star Patrick Swayze was a juror in the trial of a lawsuit brought against the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office by the family of unarmed civilian Seth Adams, and she became the one dissenting voice that caused a mistrial last week, according to sources familiar with the lawsuit.
Lisa Niemi Swayze, 60, who moved to Boca Raton and married another man in 2014, was among nine jurors selected in February for the one-month federal trial designed to decide whether PBSO Sgt. Michael Custer used excessive force when he gunned down an unarmed civilian in 2012.
While federal jurors are not identified in court papers that are made available to the public, two sources intimate with the trial confirmed that former actress Niemi, who starred in several movies with her most famous late husband including One Last Dance in 2003, was one those hand-picked to serve.
She was one of the few in the jury pool who had not heard of the well-publicized incident, according to one of the sources.
After a month of testimony and legal arguments Niemi, who nursed Swayze through his fatal bout of cancer until he passed away in 2009 at age 57, became the one hold-out juror who caused this week’s mistrial.
She was the only one on the panel who believed Custer acted in good faith when he pumped four bullets into Seth Adams, then 24, on May 17, 2012 in Loxahatchee, Fla.
Adams drove on the parking lot of his family’s tree nursery late at night and found Custer in plain clothes and parked in an unmarked sheriff’s car. An argument ensued and Adams was shot while trying to retrieve a cell phone in his pickup truck. Adams’ family claimed Adams caught Custer in an embrace with his mistress after evidence of a second parked car surfaced.
While PBSO lawyers have argued Custer was on the job trying to break up a burglary ring, and believed Adams was reaching for a gun when the shots were fired by Custer.
PBSO deemed the shooting “justified” after an investigation.
Most court observers, and those on the jury, disagreed with the official line.
“Eight jurors were in agreement within an hour of the start of the deliberation that Custer used excessive force and violated Adams’ civil rights,” said one of the sources, who asked to remain anonymous. “But Lisa kept saying she believed Custer’s testimony that he thought Adams went into his car to get a gun.
“The eight spent almost 13 hours trying to convince her to change her mind, but she wouldn’t do it.”
The jury discussed awarding Adams’ father and mother “between $5 and $10 million” in damages from Custer and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Instead, a mistrial was declared by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley. A second trial could start later this year with another jury.
Meanwhile, one of the sources said Adams family lawyers are so shocked Niemi didn’t consider clear evidence of official wrongdoing that they are now poring over records to attempt to tie Niemi with the office of Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and show a potential conflict of interest.
“They’re looking at campaign contributions, parties, the whole nine yards,” the source said.
Niemi didn’t reply to several calls requesting comment placed on her cellphone and land line.
Records show Niemi bought a beachfront condo in 2013 in Boca Raton. A year later, she married jeweler-to-the-stars Albert DePrisco in a lavish ceremony at President Donald Trump’s private club of Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
Since then, Niemi has been sharing time between Boca and Los Angeles but she is a full-fledged resident of Florida, as her driver’s license and selection to a local jury show.
The case caused controversy from the time Sheriff Bradshaw declared the shooting “justified” hours after the incident.
Throughout the proceedings, Hurley chastised Bradshaw’s agency for the “shoddy” and “disgraceful” way that PBSO Internal Affairs investigated the shooting.
PBSO lost several key evidence, including the cell phone that Custer was using the night of the shooting. His on-board computer was destroyed by mistake and Adams’ attorneys found a slug from Custer’s gun at the scene months after PBSO forensics sleuths combed the area. To this day, PBSO has yet to produce a plan of operation, a mandatory document that supervisors must produce before an undercover operation.