Crime

Death brings more scrutiny to home for mentally ill

A man bicycles past the New Greenview II assisted living facility home in Miami earlier this month. The ALF, which encompasses two houses at 2650 NW 15th Ave., concerns neighbors, who have long complained about its mentally ill residents. Miami-Dade prosecutors recently filed a murder charge against a paranoid schizophrenic man accused of fatally stabbing another man in the throat while on the property.
A man bicycles past the New Greenview II assisted living facility home in Miami earlier this month. The ALF, which encompasses two houses at 2650 NW 15th Ave., concerns neighbors, who have long complained about its mentally ill residents. Miami-Dade prosecutors recently filed a murder charge against a paranoid schizophrenic man accused of fatally stabbing another man in the throat while on the property. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Eddy Campos was a poor fruit vendor on the streets of Miami.

Known as Sordo — Spanish for “the deaf one” — he slept in a shed the size of a doghouse on a gritty street in Allapattah, about a mile but worlds away from trendy restaurants and art galleries. The crude lean-to sat on the back patio of New Greenview II, an assisted living facility for the mentally ill.

Campos died there last month — from a knife to the throat, which police say was wielded by a long-suffering schizophrenic drifter placed in the facility through the Miami-Dade criminal court system. His bloody end underscored what neighbors have long known.

Greenview is a troubled place.

Its residents routinely wander the streets, digging through trash cans, breaking car windows or arguing with each other. One teenage girl complained a resident recently exposed his genitals to her. Despite local laws prohibiting them, two sex offenders live at the home, one block away from Pablo Duarte Park and two elementary schools.

Miami police have been called to the home 99 times in the past two years alone, records show, to deal with everything from disturbances to residents running away or suffering breakdowns.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration has now ordered Greenview to clean up its act. After Campos’ stabbing, the agency found that Greenview — with faulty locks, shoddy record keeping and little oversight — “failed to allow residents to live in a safe environment.”

His murder also raised questions about whether Greenview, a state-licensed facility that has been cited for numerous violations over the years, is doing enough to protect its neighbors.

The slain man’s brother, Marcelo Campos, remains outraged: “They’re mental patients. There’s no reason for them to have weapons there.”

But the home’s operator, Nelson Martin, defended the oversight of the residents and rejected accusations that the facility poses a threat to the community.

“He got the knife from the streets,’’ Martin said. “The kitchen is secured.”

The suspected killer, Roberto Echevarria, 58, has a long history of petty crimes and mental troubles and is in jail awaiting trial. Earlier this month, Miami-Dade prosecutors formally filed a second-degree murder charge against him.

Problems at Florida ALFs are not new. The Miami Herald in 2011 published a series, “Neglected to Death,” chronicling a litany of misconduct and shoddy conditions at facilities across the state. So far, lawmakers have failed to pass several proposed reforms to the system.

The practice of housing mentally ill criminal defendants at ALFs — so that they do not languish in a jail — poses unique challenges. But murders are rare, with the last in 2008 in North Miami-Dade.

Even even before Campos’ killing, Miami police were regular visitors to Greenview. Since the start of 2013, officers responded to 27 reports of “disturbances” and 25 times came out for a “crisis intervention,” which is when someone is committed to a psychiatric facility because they pose a danger to themselves or others.

And 15 times, police have responded to reports that residents had gone missing. That includes sex offender Martin Torres, who requires heavy medication, records show. He was found two days later.

Greenview, located at 2650 NW 15th Ave., is licensed by the state to house up to 14 people suffering from mental illness. By law, residents can leave freely, but the facility must have a “general” knowledge of their whereabouts.

Last year, a state inspection found Greenview “failed to have any ongoing activities program” for residents and that staffers largely ignored residents, who were “observed sitting around in the main house either watching TV or outside the facility smoking cigarettes.”

The facility also “failed to have a safe and clean environment for the safety of the residents.” Beer cans and cigarette butts littered the grounds. The inspector noted peeling paint, broken ceiling tiles and an exposed electrical outlet.

The inspection mirrored one in March 2012, with another long list of problems: broken windows; mold in the rooms; broken locks on the door; rotten and damaged food in the refrigerator and freezer. In March 2011, an inspection found the home failed to provide residents appropriate beds, was not properly “assuring the accuracy” of medicine doses and was completing shoddy paperwork. One staffer was sharing a room with a patient.

After each visit, the home “corrected” the problems, according to AHCA documents.

No inspections seemed to have noted that the ramshackle shed in the backyard — shaped like a doghouse — was being used as sleeping quarters for Campos.

Frank Del Toro, a man listed as the facility’s caretaker in multiple police reports, told a Miami Herald reporter that the shed was not occupied. “No one lives here but the residents,” said Del Toro, who also denied being an employee of the facility.

The facility’s operator, Martin, also insisted: “That man did not live there.”

But at least six neighbors — plus suspected killer Echevarria, in his police interview — said Campos indeed was living there. Police also saw a mattress and belongings inside the structure, which has since been torn down.

Several residents also told an ACHA investigator that Campos lived in the shed and “would regularly eat dinner in the facility dining room.”

“He lived there,” said neighbor Alfredo Alvarez. “Poor guy.”

Campos told neighbors he paid $250 a month to live in the shed. He came to Miami about 16 years ago. He worked as a mechanic but fell into drugs, alcohol and a life on the streets.

His brother, Marcelo, had tried several times to move him to Texas. But Campos could not escape Allapattah, where he was well known for hawking fruits and vegetables to residents and businesses.

“He never talked back to anybody. He never had enemies,” said Raul Maura, owner of Esquina la Mia, a nearby restaurant frequented by Campos.

Campos was stabbed on the night of Feb. 13. In an interview with police, Echevarria claimed that Campos asked him for a crack pipe, which Echevarria said he took as “a lack of respect.”

The two argued. Echevarria said he fetched a knife he kept in a drawer in his bedroom, then came out to the patio, where he said the unarmed Campos lunged at him.

“He pushed me,” Echevarria told Miami detective Daniel Valladares.

Investigators believe the killing actually happened near Campos’ hovel of a home. A neighbor reported hearing clear cries, and a blood trail led from the grass inside to the kitchen at Greenview, where Campos collapsed face down on the tile.

Echevarria ran off, then returned to the home. But not before ditching the knife.

Echevarria is an all-too-familiar Miami tale: a homeless man who struggled with mental illness and substance abuse, shuffling in and out of jail for petty crime. He described himself as a refugee who came from Cuba during the 1980 Mariel boatlift and lived mostly on the streets of Overtown.

In July 2014, a Miami police officer saw him and another man fighting on Biscayne Boulevard. Echevarria allegedly kicked an officer and was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer.

At his bond hearing the next day, a Miami-Dade judge signed an order granting custody to Todd Jones, a court liaison with Fort Lauderdale Hospital, a mental health and substance abuse treatment facility in Broward County.

It is not unusual for similar private facilities to seek custody of clients with histories of mental illness facing low-level criminal charges. Miami-Dade judges also have the option of putting a defendant in the court system’s own Jail Diversion Program, which has inspected more than 20 ALFs for placement of mentally ill defendants.

“We try to be careful about where people are housed,” said Miami-Dade Judge Steve Leifman, who oversees programs for the mentally ill. “We want to make sure the consumer and the public are safe.”

Greenview is not on the court’s list of vetted ALFs.

According to the court file, Fort Lauderdale Hospital reported that Echevarria was behaving but showed “poor judgments and auditory hallucinations” and needed substance abuse treatment. The hospital recommended he be moved to Greenview, describing the facility as a “sober house.” In August, a judge approved. On at least three occasions in the following months, Jones reported to the court that Echevarria “was doing excellent.”

Fort Lauderdale Hospital did not respond to a request for comment.

The extent of treatment for alcohol abuse Echevarria got at Greenview remains unclear. Neighbor Miguel Baez told police that one resident, believed to be Echevarria, often harassed Campos. “He always came to bother him, to take his money,” he said of Echevarria. “He drank a lot.”

And Echevarria made no secret that he often left the facility to drink. Just before the killing, Echevarria told police, he had been out and drank four Busch beers and would have had more if he could. “I didn’t have more money,” he said.

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