Police shoot inmate through cell door with flashbang round
Matthew Trevino, an Army veteran with a history of mental illness, was having a schizophrenic episode in the Pasco County Jail. When he resisted detention deputies, guards escalated things by shooting him with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with a Nova round.
Newly-released footage from inside Florida’s Pasco County Jail shows the events of August 5, 2015, which sent Trevino to a Veterans Affairs hospital for months and required three surgeries to repair a wound, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
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The video shows a distressed Trevino, in the throes of a mental episode, resisting deputies as they ask him to extend his hands to handcuff him and search his cell. When he refuses, a deputy produces a shotgun with a Nova distraction round – a bullet akin to a flashbang grenade that is meant to be concussive – and shoots him
Interestingly, the video of the events does not match the half dozen incident reports from officers who saw the shooting. Those reports are consistent with each other – but not the footage. In fact, the reports are similarly worded in five out of six reports, WTVT reported.
Corporal Robert Haas, the officer who fired the Nova at Trevino, said he did so after Trevino had stepped away from the door. Five of the officers’ reports claimed that Haas saw “a window of opportunity” before he fired.
The sixth deputy, Lieutenant Richard Bain, did not mention the step back. Bain has since "voluntarily separated" from the agency.
The video shows less of a window of opportunity for Haas to use the non-lethal bullet and more of just the window. While having his schizophrenic episode, Trevino had stripped naked and taunted the guards, saying: "You never finished the academy and I'm a Marine, open this door and I will kick your ass,” according to Haas’ report.
However, the video shows Trevino was naked and pressed up against the door when Haas fired on him. The manufacturer of Nova rounds warns that the ammunition is not meant to be fired at people or animals, and is meant to be a distraction device.
Trevino’s attorney, Lee Pearlman, does not believe that the deputies responded appropriately to his signs of mental illness.
"I don't know how you wouldn't be aware of it,” Pearlman said. "He's absolutely having a schizophrenic break and the statements he's saying are bizarre."
He also called the use of the Nova round “completely unnecessary,” adding, "There's no reason, at this point, that they have to force their way into the cell. This is not an emergency situation. There's certainly no reason they have to use this level of force."
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco would not take questions about the incident, but an email statement from a spokesperson read: "A criminal with a violent history in the jail failed to comply with lawful directions. His actions dictated our reaction."
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However, Trevino has no violent crime convictions. He was arrested for breaking parole after he began having an episode and believed someone was going to kill him. He asked a neighbor to call the police, who arrested him for breaking curfew as set by his probation on a misdemeanor driving under the influence charge.
Hospital records show that Trevino’s wound was deep enough to reveal muscle. It required multiple surgeries to correct.
"I have nerve damage and muscle damage," Trevino told the Tampa Bay Times. "There's pain every time I try to walk."
None of the officers involved have faced repercussions for the incident because the department does not have a policy on use of Nova rounds. Ergo, no one violated any policy.