Around 9:30 one night this past March, residents in a Palmetto Bay neighborhood called police about a man outside apparently smashing car windows and puncturing tires with a pickaxe. Officers quickly arrived to investigate and soon traced the suspect, 25-year-old Ethan Rincon, to his home on SW 88th Place.
While his parents and police were outside, Rincon ran into the house and shut the door. From inside the home, there was only silence. The four officers burst into the house to find Rincon, and within moments, the man's parents heard a volley of gunshots. Just like that, their son was dead. Police would later say Rincon lunged at them with the pickaxe, leaving them no choice but to fire their weapons.
But a former Miami-Dade Police officer who is now a lawyer is raising questions about the way the incident was handled.
"The guy may have committed significant vandalism, but at the end of the day, we don't shoot and kill people because they destroy other people's property," attorney Rick Diaz says.
Last Friday, Diaz filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Village of Palmetto Bay and four of its police officers on behalf of Rincon's parents, Carmen and Carlos Rincon, saying the officers ignored police protocol and used excessive force that ultimately led to the death of the Rincons' son. The lawsuit names John Dalton, Brian Zamorski, Marlene Taborda, and Sgt. Victor Evans as the responding officers.
Diaz criticizes the police for rushing into the house instead of calling for the county's Special Response Team or a trained negotiator.
"Even if they could justify the shooting, the real big thing is why did you have to run in there and shoot the guy?" Diaz tells New Times. "You had, at best, a barricaded subject. There was no need."
The Village of Palmetto Bay contracts with the Miami-Dade Police Department for services. The village's police commander, Gadyaces Serralta, declined to comment about the lawsuit, referring New Times to Miami-Dade Police, which referred questions to the county attorney. Neither the county attorney nor the village attorney has provided New Times with a response about the shooting.
A representative for the State Attorney's Office also did not respond to an email about the status of the investigation. The case was referred to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for review, as is typical in police shootings.
The family's complaint cites the police department's written policy as proof the officers did not behave according to their training. In most instances involving a barricaded subject, the policy directs officers to call for a Special Response Team, which has been specifically trained to respond to such situations. The policy also states an "appropriate response is required to contain the situation and to establish communication with the subject."
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But Diaz says police did not try to make contact with Rincon via phone or a bullhorn. The 25-year-old's parents say the officers made no announcement upon entering the home and did not engage in conversation with Rincon before firing the shots.
After being contacted by the Rincons, Diaz says, he personally went to the family's home to do a preliminary crime scene reconstruction. Based on his training, he says he believes the shots were fired by two officers, one of whom may not have even been able to see inside the bedroom where Rincon was shot dead.
As a former police officer, Diaz says, he wouldn't have taken the case if he didn't believe the officers had acted inappropriately. But he says what he has discovered so far is alarming.
"If it's a close call, the benefit of the doubt goes to the officer every single time. Here, there's no doubt, no benefit to be given," he says. "It pains me to have to sue a police department, and I would never do so in a close-call case, but here, it's abundantly clear they did not follow protocol."