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Wrongful Death Lawsuit against PBSO Heads to Federal Court Next Week

The civil wrongful death trial of former Palm Beach County Deputy Justin Rigney in the fatal shooting of a Loxahatchee man is set to begin on January 13th.

Both Rigney and the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office are defendants in the case brought by Whidden’s family. Criminal defense attorney Stuart Kaplan of Palm Beach Gardens is representing the family. He explains the case in Karen Curtis’ Full Rigor Podcast.

According to investigators, Rigney shot Whidden when a suicidal Whidden charged at him with a knife during an emergency call made by Whidden’s mother in 2016.

Rigney was cleared of wrongdoing and did not face criminal charges.

But, Kaplan says videos that captured the final moments of Ricky Whidden’s life raise doubts about a Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputy’s claims that he had good reason to shoot the mentally ill Loxahatchee man in 2016 and an appeals court agreed.

The ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals sets the stage for a federal jury to decide whether then-Corporal Justin Rigney used excessive force when he shot the 42-year-old eight times after Whidden’s parents summoned deputies for help.

Two videos, shot from a neighbor’s security cameras, show Whidden running away from Rigney and other deputies, the Atlanta-based appeals court said. While Rigney claims Whidden threatened him with a knife, the videos don’t show the threat and other deputies disputed it, the court wrote.

“Several of the deputies on the scene testified that they did not see Whidden’s knife until after they rolled over his dead body, which is evidence that could support a finding, for example, that Whidden had the knife tucked into his jacket,” the appeals court wrote.

Further, they said, even if Whidden had threatened Rigney with a knife, the officer was in no danger.

“There was at least 15 feet between him and Rigney, which included a three-foot tall hedge that he would have had to get over to attack Rigney,” they wrote.
Teri Barbera, a spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office, said deputies receive crisis intervention training so they know how to deal with people with psychological problems.

Kaplan said he is hopeful that the family prevails at trial and declined to say how much he would be seeking.

PBSO Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has settled roughly a dozen excessive force lawsuits in recent years. The last time one when to trial, a jury in 2016 ordered the agency to pay $22.4 million to shooting victim Dontrell Stephens, who was paralyzed from the waist down when a deputy’s bullet severed his spine.

Bradshaw has blocked Stephens’ efforts to recover the money.