The Miami Gardens officer yells an expletive-laced order to an unseen man to get on the ground, then backpedals and fires his weapon four times at a slightly downward angle. A fifth, final shot comes as the officer moves toward his target.
The tense and fatal encounter between Lavall Hall, a 25-year-old mentally ill man, and officer Eddo Trimino in February was partially captured on a patrol car dashcam video released Wednesday for the first time by Hall’s family. The 19-minute video is clear enough to see muzzle flashes and flying shell casings, but it also leaves enough unseen to only add to the controversy surrounding the shooting.
Hall’s grieving family believes the video — particularly a clip their attorneys had produced in slow-motion — shows that Trimino used excessive force and had no need to fire his weapon.
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“I was outraged, furious, devastated and very emotional. They killed him, murdered him,” said Melissa Edwards, the mother of Hall’s 8-year-old daughter.
Yet police union representatives and Trimino’s attorney see the video through a different lens — arguing it vindicates the officer, who they say feared for his life as he retreated from Hall after issuing precise and stern commands that were disobeyed.
“You’re trained to shoot at the center body mass. So it’s going to be a bit of a lower trajectory of the gun,” said Trimino’s attorney, Andrew Axelrad. “He’s not shooting at eye level, that’s in the movies. The video justifies the officer’s actions. You can see his fear.”
The rare pre-trial release of the dashcam video comes at a particularly touchy time for police, only a day after North Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager was charged with murder by South Carolina law enforcement. The charge came after a videotape showing Slager repeatedly shooting an unarmed man in the back emerged. Only a few months ago, angry marchers filled the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City after the deaths of black men at the hands of white police officers.
Despite the heated protests elsewhere, attorneys representing Hall’s family and NAACP members who accompanied Hall’s mother, Catherine Daniels, stressed on Wednesday that the Miami Gardens shooting seemed less about race and more about police not dealing well with the mentally ill.
Eric Pettus, an executive board member for the NAACP in Miami-Dade, called for more crisis response training for police officers.
“After seeing the video it’s clear to me that the incident was avoidable,” he said. “This was a call that was a mental health issue.”
Hall was shot dead by Trimino in the early hours of Feb. 15, after Daniels awoke to find her son outside in the cold almost naked and waving a broomstick. Frightened, she called police, who a week earlier had escorted the schizophrenic Hall to a nearby mental hospital. Police said that when they encountered Hall the morning he died, he was agitated and swinging a broomstick, striking Trimino and Police Officer Peter Ehrlich, who later required stitches.
Then, the officers said, they fired their electronic Tasers at Hall — but with no effect. Hall took off south about a block from the family’s home at 19157 NW Third Ave. When Trimino found him, the officer said he yelled for Hall to drop to the ground, but he refused. Trimino fired his weapon five times, striking Hall in the arm and stomach area, killing him.
The 19-minute video, which alternates from a dashcam through the front and back windows of Ehrlich’s patrol car, begins at 4:56 a.m. with the patrol car rolling past Daniels and her telling the officer, “I’m scared. Please don’t hurt my baby.”
Ehrlich’s vehicle moves slowly down the street past the family’s home. As the video pans the street and homes, the patrol car’s bright lights illuminate the way. At one point Ehrlich can be heard saying that Hall is walking around with a broom in his hand, and says, “Every time I go near him he walks away.”
Then there is a split-second shot of Hall holding a broomstick, before he disappears. A few minutes later Hall is seen racing toward Ehrlich’s patrol car, then away from it. Hall is not seen again. Ehrlich can be heard saying, “Hey, easy,” at some point during a confrontation. Then Trimino’s commands can be heard clearly.
“Get on the f***ing ground or you’re dead. Get on the ground or you’re dead. Get on the ground, get on the ground,” he warns Hall. Then four consecutive shots ring out as Trimino backs away. There’s a brief delay before Trimino fires a fifth shot as he moves toward Hall.
“The officers had made up their mind they were going to kill Hall,” said family attorney Glen Goldberg.
Indicting a police officer for a shooting death in Florida is extremely rare. The last time it happened was in 1989 when prosecutors charged Miami police officer William Lozano after he fired at a man fleeing on a motorcycle, killing two people. Lozano was convicted of manslaughter in Miami, a decision later overturned by the appellate court. A second jury acquitted him.
Officers in Florida are afforded wide leeway to use deadly force — including being able to fire at fleeing suspects under the state’s “fleeing felon” law. That statute was cited in March when the state chose not to charge any officers for the 2011 Memorial Day shooting death of Raymond Herrise, who was shot 16 times inside his car, and whose car was struck with more than 100 bullets.
Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at Pace University School of Law and co-chairman of the civil rights practice group for Newman Ferrara in New York, said the only thing clear from the video was that police need more training in dealing with the mentally ill.
He said the flashing police lights likely only made Hall more agitated. Officers who received proper training are taught to deescalate dangerous situations, he said, “and what I’m seeing here is just the opposite. Before the cops got there he wasn’t threatening anyone.”
In the days following Hall’s death, former Miami Gardens Police Chief Stephen Johnson said that Trimino and Ehrlich had received specialized training in dealing with the mentally ill, though there was no mention of it in either officer’s personnel files supplied by the city.
The video was released by Miami Gardens this week against the wishes of the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office, which argued that “this potential contamination may compromise our common goal to seek the truth, and ultimately undermine the integrity of the investigation.” Still, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her office had no legal sway in stopping the family from obtaining and releasing the video.
Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert said state law compelled him to release the video at the family’s request. “I’m a father, I would want to see it,” Gilbert said.
Miami Herald Staff Writer Lance Dixon contributed to this story.