Pinellas News

Tarpon Springs officer hailed as hero in Publix shooting

Mike Trill knew the drill when he rushed into the chaotic Publix Super Market in Tarpon Springs on Tuesday afternoon, his gun drawn. The Tarpon Springs police sergeant today is being hailed a hero, after he shot a former grocery store employee who, police said, had just fatally shot a fellow co-worker in the parking lot and had walked into the store looking for other workers to shoot. Trill found the woman. She fired at him, police said, and one round struck the utility belt of a fellow officer. Trill did not hesitate and returned fire, striking Arunya Rouch, 41, who remained in critical-but-stable condition at Bayfront Medical Center today. A 15-year veteran of the department, Trill is an instructor at the police shooting range and trains officers in active shooter situations. And this was one of those situations, said police Lt. Barb Templeton, who has worked with Trill for years.
"This is the type of guy who comes into work at 150 mph and doesn't stop," she said. "He even monitors the radio during his off-duty hours. He's devoted and dedicated to his job." She said when the call came in about shots fired at the Publix, he didn't hesitate to get to the scene from the nearby police station. "He was one of first ones on the scene," she said, adding that officers now are instructed to go in to the building, rather than set up a staging area outside. "He went in there to take out that threat." Templeton was not surprised to hear it was Trill who was first to answer the call. "He knew there was a woman inside with a gun," she said. "It was a crowded, busy parking lot and store. Publix employees were yelling at customers to get out." It was chaos, she said. Trill was in his element, she said. "A lot of officers have that attitude at first," she said, "but as time goes by, they get tired facing the same issues day after day after day. But he has same enthusiasm he had on the first day on the job." Trill supervises the entire detective bureau, from homicides to burglaries, she said. He doesn't have to, but he also assigns himself cases to work, she said. He made sergeant four years after joining the department and there are numerous letters of commendation. But they are offset by a couple of suspensions without pay, including one in which he accidentally fired his gun into his desk at the police station. Documents show that Trill has fired a firearm three other times while on duty. In 2001, he fired his handgun at an opossum and a year later, he shot at a snake with a shotgun. In 2003, he fired the shotgun at a vicious dog, but missed. Trill was placed on administrative leave Tuesday night pending the outcome of the investigation. Templeton said that Trill is not granting interviews. Because an officer fired shots, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement also is investigating. It won't be Trill's first involvement with an FDLE investigation. Eight years ago, the state law enforcement agency launched what turned into a three-year investigation into corruption of the department, and Trill who was working road patrol, was among a handful of officers targeted. The 46-page report details numerous complaints mostly filed by drug defendants, alleging excessive force and planting of drugs to make arrests. Templeton said Trill emerged relatively unscathed. But the investigation, "shattered him," she said. "He was pretty devastated." Often dressed in black police attire and wearing black leather gloves, Trill would roust known drug holes and dealers. "He made a ton of drug-related arrests," Templeton said. Tarpon Springs was known as a "candy store" where people from all over Pasco County would come to buy crack cocaine. "He addressed that problem by being very aggressive," she said, "telling drug dealers, 'I'm watching you.' "With that number of arrests," she said, "there are going to be lots of complaints." She said the only thing the probe proved was that Trill "had a big mouth. He tells people, 'Don't come to my town if you're going to buy drugs.' "

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760.

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