Wrongful Death Trial of Officer Who Killed Seth Adams Highlights Non-Lethal Options

  • The wrongful death trial against Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Sgt. Michael Custer is shining light on the topic of excessive force in the state.
  • Custer shot and killed Seth Adams in a confrontation in 2012.
  • The lawyers for Adams’ family claim that Custer could have used non-lethal options during his confrontation with Seth, but chose not to.

One of the most important questions with which law enforcement agencies in Florida, and indeed across the country, are grappling is how to determine when deadly force is truly justified. Following the massive protests against police brutality in recent years, it is no wonder that local agencies’ practices are being scrutinized.

The wrongful death trial against Sgt. Michael Custer, who shot and killed Seth Adams during a 2012 confrontation, is being used as a platform by victims’ rights advocates, as it represents a case in which a police officer shot and killed a man even though non-lethal options were available.

On the night of the confrontation which led to Adams’ death, Sgt. Custer was overseeing a team of police officers who were working undercover while tracking suspected ATM thieves. Custer, who was in plain clothes and driving a black Ford Explorer at the time, stopped at A One Stop Garden Shop nursery, a business owned by Seth Adams’ family. Seth lived and worked at the shop.

Upon spotting the car, Seth approached it, presumably to try to identify what was going on. Custer testified that Adams approached him threateningly and began yelling at him, and continued to do so even after Sgt. Custer identified himself as a police officer.

The lawyers for Adams’ family have questioned Custer’s actions during the night of the shooting. For example, the attorneys noted that Custer left his non-lethal force options, including his baton and chemical spray, in the car when he got out to confront Adams, but did carry his weapon.

Florida police officers are responsible for protecting the state’s populace, and every reasonable person will agree that it is a tough profession. But, the state’s law enforcement officers have been subject to multiple accusations of excessive force in recent years, with too many of these situations resulting in death. It is time for Florida police departments to update police training in such a way that best ensures the safety of both police officers and the public they are sworn to protect.