Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

For Miami Gardens cop, a record of confrontations and commendations

Miami Gardens police officer Eddo Trimino
Miami Gardens police officer Eddo Trimino

The police officer responsible for the controversial shooting death of a 25-year-old mentally ill man last month was investigated for killing a murder suspect in 2013, and for using excessive force as a Hialeah police officer and in Miami Gardens.

Eddo Trimino is also one of several Miami Gardens cops originally named as defendants in a lawsuit alleging he and others were directed to enforce an “illegal system of quotas” requiring them to execute an enormous number of citations, field contact reports and arrests mostly in and around a local convenience store named 207 QuickStop.

A member of the Miami Gardens Police Department since 2008, Trimino has had stellar evaluations with almost perfect scores on everything from attendance to dealing with the public. In March 2013, he received a commendation from then-Chief Matthew Boyd for chasing down and disarming an alleged drug dealer in Scott Park. A supervisor wrote in his October 2013 evaluation that “Detective Trimino’s work ethic is unmatched. He sets the example that young officers aspire to emulate.”

Yet the 34-year-old Trimino is one of only two officers in the police department’s brief eight-year history to be involved in an on-duty fatal shooting. The first shooting in late 2013 seemed cut and dried to state prosecutors who quickly found no wrongdoing on Trimino’s part. Investigators determined he shot Robert Jostin Desir — a man wanted for shooting and killing his stepfather the same day — as he rushed toward Trimino, firing his weapon.

The early morning Feb. 15 shooting death of Lavall Hall is more complicated: Trimino shot Hall after being called to the family’s home. Less than a week earlier, Miami Gardens police had safely taken the bipolar and schizophrenic Hall to a nearby Jackson Memorial Hospital mental health facility. And Hall’s mother Catherine Daniels said she repeatedly warned police of her son’s illness.

“If I had known they were going to hurt my child I never would have called them,” she said.

Trimino and partner Peter Ehrlich found an agitated Hall outside the home a few hours before sunrise and both tried to subdue him with electronic Tasers, which they say had no effect. The officers said Hall hit them in the head with the metal end of a broomstick before fleeing.

Trimino eventually fired five bullets at Hall on a street, a block from his home. Two struck him. The bullet to his chest killed him. When investigators arrived, Hall was face down and handcuffed.

Trimino’s attorney Andrew Axelrad, called Hall’s death “an unfortunate but sometimes necessary part of a very difficult job,” and said his client had little choice but to use deadly force.

“They were getting beaten. They really exhausted every alternative other than running away from the guy,” he said.

Those words do little to assuage Daniels. “My child would still be with me if they had handled it better,” she said.

Those who know Trimino paint a picture of a cop who spent most of his 10 years with Hialeah and Miami Gardens in specialized midnight details like crime suppression and robbery intervention, where officers deal with the most dangerous criminals.

“They’re all pro-active squads that go after the worst of the worst,” Axelrad said.

Personnel records show Trimino graduated from Hialeah Senior High, attended Broward College and spent four years in the U.S. Air Force before joining the Hiealah Police Department in March 2004 when he was 22. A year later, Trimino was accused of using excessive force.

It was 1:15 a.m., Oct. 2, 2005, when Trimino and four other Hialeah cops were called to the home of Lorenzo Garcia Mazas, who had been arguing with his wife. When the officers got to the door, Mazas would not let them in, according to a federal lawsuit filed in 2007.

The suit says Trimino and officers Roberto Nunez, Hector Diaz, Cedric Philpot and Alejandro Lorente climbed into the home through a bedroom window, pulled Mazas out of a bathroom and placed him in the back seat of a patrol car. Mazas claimed the officers pulled him from the patrol car, sprayed mace in his face, then began smashing his head against a patrol car and the ground. He received 17 stitches at the hospital before going to the police station, where he was arrested and spent two nights.

The suit says that Mazas had begged the officers to stop beating him and cried for his father to help him. Police reports differ. They say Mazas trapped his family in his apartment and threatened to kill them. It says police used a Taser and pepper sprayed him when he became aggressive. Police said Mazas banged his own head on their patrol car.

Though Mazas eventually pleaded guilty to battery on a police officer and tampering with a witness, Hialeah City Attorney William Grodnick recommended settling the case because two witnesses supported Mazas’s claim that police beat him, and because police could no longer locate the older woman who called police that night. Mazas was paid $22,500 by the city. In a memo to the city attorney, Assistant City Attorney Alan Krueger wrote that the settlement “does not address the merits of the claim.”

Details of the actual settlement remain so secretive that now, eight years later, Trimino and his attorneys at the time still refuse to discuss the incident.

Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera called Trimino a cop who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty despite working dangerous specialized details like crime suppression and robbery intervention.

“On the surface and by itself, [he] looks like a guy who is productive out there and doing his job,” Rivera said.

By 2008 Trimino was a member of the Miami Gardens Police Department, where records don’t show any issues until late 2012. That’s when Trimino and five other officers were investigated by Internal Affairs after a man named Isaiah Williams claimed the cops approached him at a bus stop, ordered hiim to lie face down, then kicked him five times in the head.

Trimino was cleared after investigators said they saw no evidence of injury to Williams and that Williams could not properly identify the officer.

Then in November 2013, Trimino shot and killed Desir, a man wanted for killing his stepfather earlier that day. The case was so clear-cut to state investigators that it was cleared within 10 months, a speedy decision for police-involved shootings. The state found Trimino and his partner shot Desir after he disobeyed clear commands and fired at the officers as he ran toward them. Trimino fired 19 times, Santiago, 14.

“It appeared that the subject heard the calls and shouts, because he turned, but instead of complying, he began to run towards the officers, gun in hand, shooting at them,” wrote Assistant State Attorney Josh Weintraub.

A month later, Attorney Stephen Lopez filed the federal civil rights suit against Miami Gardens, originally naming several officers, including Trimino. Later the suit was amended to drop the names of most of the officers as defendants when Lopez determined they were acting on a city policy to intimidate, harrass and detain residents in one of the largest predominately black communities in the U.S.

The case argues that Miami Gardens police were ordered to stop-and-frisk, search, seize, and arrest and prosecute Miami Gardens residents. One man, Earl Sampson, was stopped 258 times in four years. An investigation by the Fusion television network showed police had detained more than 53,000 people — over half the city’s population — over a seven-year period. Included in the stops: more than 8,000 people under the age of 18, and a 5-year-old child.

In one instance, the suit claims, Trimino and another officer approached a man named Ross Picart who worked at the 207 QuickStop grocery store, and demanded identification. When he didn’t produce it, Picart went behind the counter to call store owner Alex Saleh.

The lawsuit, which is supported by in-house video surveillance, says police pulled Picart outside and searched him, then Trimino and another officer returned and searched the store. The video clearly shows Trimino standing watch and milling about the store as another officer searches behind and under the counter, and finds a gun. Picart was arrested and charged with possession of a concealed weapon.

The charges were dropped after state prosecutors discovered the gun was owned by store owner Alex Saleh and had never been in Picart’s possession.

Saleh, the store owner, said police knew the gun belonged to him because they stopped him in his car a week earlier cliaiming he had bald tires, and ran the gun’s serial number. “The gun wasn’t even in his [Picart’s] possession,” he said.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 15, Trimino fired the fatal bullet that ended the life of 25-year-old Lavall Hall, a mentally ill man who Miami Gardens who police had escorted to a mental health center only a week earlier. Trimino and partner Peter Ehrlich told police that Hall was threatening their lives with a broomstick, had struck them both in the head, and that their Tasers had no effect on him.

Daniels said she called police after waking early and finding her son pacing about outside in the cold, carrying a broomstick. When she asked him to come inside, she felt threatened, closed the door and called police, she said. Police confronted Hall in front of a neighbor’s home and fired their Tasers. Then, police said, Hall fled a few feet, then around a corner. As Trimino approached him again, police said Hall turned and moved toward the officer in a threatening manner. Then Trimino fired the fatal shots.

More than a month after the shooting the attorneys hired by Hall’s family still haven’t received the Miami-Dade County medical examiner’s report, a copy of the dashcam video on Trimino’s patrol car or the 911 tape in which Daniels says she begged the dispatcher to tell police not to harm her child.

Questions also remain about the incident. Hall was shot around a corner a block from the house and found in handcuffs lying face down with bullet wounds to his arm and chest. Police and witnesses said the initial confrontation between Hall and police took place in front of a home next door to the Hall home, but he was killed around the corner and down the street.

Hall’s family said the broomstick that Trimino and Ehrlich said Hall threatened them with, was dropped in front of the family’s home before Hall was shot. No one has said if it was anywhere near his body at the time of his death or if he had picked up another type of weapon.

Stephen Johnson, the police chief at the time of the shooting, said Trimino fired at Hall as the mentally ill man turned and darted toward him in a threatening manner.

Johnson also said that Trimino and Ehrlich received Crisis Intervention Training to deal with escalating confrontations involving the mentally ill.

As of last week, both officers remained on paid injured leave. Ehrlich is alleged to have received stitches for a cut sustained to his head when Hall swung his weapon. Trimino, too, was alleged to be struck in the head.

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