State Attorney Won't Reopen Questionable Investigation Unless Questionable Law Enforcement Agencies Provide The Evidence

by Tim Cushing
Feb. 19, 2015

In May 2012, Seth Adams pulled into the parking lot of the gardening store his family owned. A few minutes later, he was dead, shot by an undercover cop who had been sitting in an unmarked vehicle in the store's parking lot. The officer, Michael Custer, claimed Adams was "drunk and belligerent" and that he "feared for his life." He also claimed Adams reached into the cab of his pickup, presumably to grab a weapon, and that's when he opened fire.

It was clear from the beginning that the ensuing investigation would be nothing more than ornamental. Adams' "guilt" and the officer's "innocence" had been predetermined.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw made it clear from the start that he had no intention of investigating the incident impartially. Referring to Adams, Bradshaw at one point told local media, “Why he decided to assault the deputy? We may never know that.” When the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) began a state investigation, Bradshaw added that he was confident the results would “verify exactly what I thought from the beginning.”
And the Sheriff's Department began taking steps to ensure the investigation wouldn't have any other outcome. Police seized surveillance video captured by the store's cameras and then claimed no recording of the incident existed. Forensic evidence suggesting Custer's narrative was flawed was produced (a trail of blood beginning at the back of the pickup, rather than by the cab where Custer claimed Adams was reaching for a weapon), but the officer was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

This led to a lawsuit filed by Adams' family. Nearly two years later, and the obstruction of justice still hasn't stopped. New evidence has been obtained by the family's lawyer, but the state's attorney isn't interested in re-opening the closed FDLE investigation The new information is a scathing Sheriff's Office review of Sgt. Michael Custer, who was deemed incapable of "making sound decisions under pressure." Despite this review, Custer was allowed to retain control of an elite tactical unit.

This review was never turned over to the FDLE by the Sheriff's office.
“An FDLE investigator even asked for Custer’s employee evaluations but was told they didn’t exist.”
The family's attorney also claims the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office ignored the contradictory blood trail evidence from the forensics investigation when performing its own investigation into the incident. This report, as potentially damning as it is, has just had its usefulness neutered by the state attorney's office.
"First thing I want to make clear on with the Seth Adams investigation is that was closed out during a prior administration," said State Attorney for the 15th Judicial Court, Dave Aronberg who was elected to the post in November, 2012.
So, there will no reopening of a flawed investigation in which the law enforcement agency being investigated hid information from investigators. That's the level of accountability State Attorney Aronberg is comfortable with. Oh, but it could be reopened, provided any new information comes from an Aronberg-approved source -- like the same agency that obstructed the original investigation.
State Attorney Aronberg and Anderson didn't say much more during the Q & A except that if new evidence comes into their office they could re-open the case.

Any new evidence would have to come from a law enforcement agency, not an attorney working a civil case.
Which, in any language, is bullshit. Aronberg will only look into things if cops ask him to, not civilians. Not for nothing has the idea been floated that the job of prosecuting police misconduct be turned over public defenders, rather than offices like Aronberg's, where the relationship might be a bit too cozy. Those that are supposed to be a key part of accountability are, in actuality, often just an escape route for abusive law enforcement officers. Whatever Aronberg thinks he's doing with this decision, it certainly can't be considered to be part of his job description.
Why isn’t the state’s attorney’s office investigating the sheriff’s department for reportedly lying about the existence of Custer’s employee evaluations? And why did FDLE investigators take the department at its word that those evaluations didn’t exist? An investigator for the Adams family was able to obtain them through an open-records request. Shouldn’t a state agency charged with investigating police shootings be a bit more skeptical of the targets of its investigations?
These are all questions Aronberg doesn't want to answer, so he's conveniently ensured he'll never be asked these questions again. And the Sheriff's Department that obstructed a state investigation will continue to employ an officer who's demonstrated he's a danger to himself and others and face no consequences for impeding an investigation by a state agency.

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