Two years after a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot a 19-year-old Belle Glade man six seconds after stopping him for driving without a seat-belt, the agency has agreed to pay $325,000 to the teen’s family to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.
The settlement with the family of Henry Bennett III is the latest one in a string of payouts Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has made to end lawsuits accusing his deputies of using excessive force. In the last two years, he has agreed to pay an estimated $7 million to settle more than a half-dozen similar lawsuits.
Approved during a mediation session in November, it became official last week when U.S. District Judge Kenneth Marra closed the case. During the same week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a $22.4 million verdict against the sheriff’s office in connection with a 2013 shooting that left 24-year-old Dontrell Stephens paralyzed from the waist down.
Sheriff’s officials and their attorney, Richard Giuffreda, declined comment on the reasons they approved the settlement with Bennett’s mother, Felicia Mitchell. Miami attorney Jasmine Rand, who represented the family of Trayvon Martin who was shot and killed in 2012 by Orlando-area resident George Zimmerman, didn’t return phone calls or emails for comment.
At a press conference last year when she filed the lawsuit, Rand blasted Deputy Andrew Cano for claiming he shot Bennett in January 2016 after the teen pointed a gun at him. A video taken by Cano’s dashboard camera shows Bennett opening the door of a black Impala and bolting away as soon as he is stopped on Southwest 9th Street in Belle Glade. The video didn’t capture the shooting.
Rand scoffed at the notion that Bennett fired at Cano as he was fleeing. “This is not ‘The Matrix.’ This is not a John Wayne movie,” she said.
She also accused the agency of engaging in a cover-up because the gun Bennett was supposedly carrying was not photographed under his body, where a deputy said he discovered it. Further, she said, Bennett’s DNA wasn’t on the weapon.
But in a report clearing Cano of wrongdoing, Palm Beach County State Attorney Dave Aronberg said the dash-cam video and statements from other deputies corroborated the Cano’s account. Cano, who has been investigated roughly 15 times for using force since joining the sheriff’s office in 2013, could be heard on the video yelling, “Get on the ground,” several times before four shot rang out, Aronberg wrote.
Deputy Jeremy Campbell told investigators he wanted to take a photo of the gun but the batteries on the camera were dead. Worried about a crowd that had gathered, he said he put the gun in the trunk of his squad car. Later, it was discovered the Lorcin 9 millimeter pistol had been reported stolen in November 2015, Aronberg wrote.
In clearing Cano of wrongdoing, Aronberg noted court decisions have consistently given police officers broad latitude to use deadly force if they believe their lives or those of others are threatened.
“Reconsideration will nearly always reveal that something different could have been done if the officer knew the future,” Aronberg wrote, quoting an 1994 appeals court ruling. “This is what we mean when we say we refuse to second-guess the officer.”