NEW PORT RICHEY (FOX 13) - Attorneys representing the 30-year-old inmate who was shot by Pasco County detention deputies last year have sued the sheriff’s office and those deputies for violating constitutional laws, federal disability laws and state public corruption laws.
Attorneys Lee Pearlman, Mark Rankin and Michael Maddux filed the lawsuit in federal court on August 31 on behalf of Matthew Trevino, who sustained long-term injuries when a detention deputy shot him while he was behind the locked doors of his jail cell, suffering from a schizophrenic breakdown.
Corporal Robert Haas fired at Trevino with a shotgun loaded with a Nova round – a high-intensity muzzle flash that can have fatal consequences if fired directly at someone, according to the manufacturer’s website.
Trevino had been searched and booked into the Pasco County jail earlier that day, charged with violating a parole curfew. Deputies had ordered Trevino to “cuff up,” meaning they wanted him to put his hands through the food chute in order to handcuff him and search him. Trevino, who was in the midst of a schizophrenic breakdown, according to his attorneys, had stripped naked and was not responding to their orders.
"It's obvious that the methods they're employing are going to be completely ineffective to someone in his state,” Maddux said. "They actually become angry at him because the completely ineffective, inappropriate, ill-chosen techniques they've chosen don't work - and it's all Matthew's fault."
Video shows Trevino was pressed up against the door when Haas aimed and fired the shotgun at the open food shoot. The blast tore into the muscle in his upper thigh, according to medical records, causing injuries that require ongoing, long-term medical treatment.
Trevino’s attorneys say he was in need of help from someone trained in crisis intervention and posed no threat to the officers.
"They had a big, thick, steel door and a wall between them. They didn't need to do anything to him,” Maddux said. “This is classic excessive force. It's all gratuitous. It's all unneeded."
The lawsuit also says deputies committed official misconduct by allegedly falsifying official records of the incident.
Sheriff Chris Nocco declined requests to be interviewed about the lawsuit. A spokesperson sent a reporter a 60-second clip from an August 25 news conference, in which Nocco said the sheriff’s office quickly provided some training, after conducting an internal investigation. In the statement, Nocco does not elaborate on what kind of training was provided to deputies or what the issues were.
PSO’s own internal investigations cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, and no officers have been fired as a result of the shooting.
“A criminal with a violent history in the jail failed to comply with lawful directions. His actions dictated our reaction," Nocco said in statement in July.
“It’s a complete misrepresentation,” Maddux said of Nocco’s statement. “Sadly, it’s consistent with what the deputies did when they wrote their reports, which is misrepresent the event. As the public is learning, thank God for video.”
“They have no control over this,” Pearlman said. “In fact, he was in custody because of a schizophrenic episode that was continuing for weeks at this point, where he called 911 from a neighbor’s house saying people were after them.”
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies who responded to the 911 call last August arrested Trevino for violating his parole by being out past his curfew. The parole was the result of a DUI charge in Pasco County. Trevino was then transferred to Pasco County jail.
Trevino’s attorneys want the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to step up efforts to train deputies in de-escalation and crisis intervention.
Pearlman, whose brother committed suicide after suffering from mental illness, says the issue is a personal one to him.
"These individuals have to know they're dealing with mentally ill individuals,” Pearlman said. “That's part of the job. You can't avoid it in our system."