WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – A sheriff’s detective testified Wednesday that he saw nothing dangerous happening moments before his sergeant fatally shot an unarmed man.
Palm Beach County Detective Kevin Drummond told a jury in a federal civil trial that as he drove past a parking lot shortly before midnight on May 16, 2012, he saw Sgt. Michael Custer exiting his SUV and Seth Adams standing nearby next to his pickup truck.
Drummond said he would have stopped if he felt Custer was in danger or needed help, but he saw nothing wrong so he kept driving. Moments later, another deputy radioed that he heard shots. Custer says he shot the 24-year-old Adams because he attacked him. Adams’ parents are suing him and the sheriff’s office for unspecified millions, saying the shooting was unprovoked.
Custer and Drummond were part of a surveillance team watching a gang of ATM thieves who lived near A One Stop Garden Shop, the nursery business Adams operated and lived at with his brother and sister-in-law.
Custer had pulled into the nursery’s parking lot at 11 p.m. to watch a nearby street. Adams, who was legally drunk, arrived home about 40 minutes later from a bar where others described him as being in a good mood. He parked his truck about 15 feet from Custer. Both were white.
Called to the stand by the attorneys for Adams’ parents, Drummond cast doubt on Custer’s version of events.
Custer, who was cleared by two law enforcement investigations, has told investigators and the parents’ attorneys that Seth Adams had cursed him as he exited his truck and demanded to know why he was there, yelling “as loud as a man could.” He said he got out of his SUV and tried to calm Adams down, but Adams came at him and grabbed him by the throat.
He said he fought off Adams, then went back to his SUV and radioed for help. He said Adams ran back to his truck and began rummaging in the cab as if he were grabbing a gun. Custer says he kicked the door closed on Adams and tried to pull him away, but Adams spun toward him. Fearing he was about to be shot, Custer says, he fired four shots, hitting Adams twice in the chest and once in the arm. Custer says he then radioed he had fired shots.
Drummond told the five-man, four-woman jury that he was driving on the bordering road when he realized he had passed the street he had meant to turn onto. As he made a U-turn, his headlights flashed through the nursery parking lot. He said Adams appeared to be looking away from Custer into the nursery and then turned his head back toward Custer as if the sergeant had said something. He said their interaction appeared normal and he heard no yelling. He said that if he even had a thought that his colleague was endangered, he would have stopped.
He said he had driven about a half-mile when another surveillance team member radioed he had heard shots in the semi-rural area. He said he drove a bit further when he heard Custer’s first radio call asking for help, so he began speeding back to the lot. Custer then made his radio call that he had shot someone.
Drummond eventually helped locate Adams, who had run into the nursery before collapsing. He died two hours later during surgery.