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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018 9 months ago

Family of deceased Winter Park teen Roger Trindade files wrongful death lawsuit

The family filed a lawsuit against Winter Park, OCPS and the families of three juvenile suspects.
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

It’s been two years since 15-year-old Winter Park High School student Roger Trindade lost his life in a violent altercation Oct. 15, 2016 in Central Park.

His family is still seeking justice.

Trindade’s parents, Rodrigo Trindade and Adriana Thomé, filed a wrongful death lawsuit earlier this month against the city of Winter Park, Orange County Public Schools and the families of the Winter Park High School students involved in the altercation.

“We’ve never felt that justice was done for Roger,” Thomé said. “He was in the square with his friends, and these boys came and attacked Roger.”

The lawsuit claims the parents of suspects Jesse Sutherland, Simeon Hall and a third juvenile suspect didn’t supervise their children and allowed them to wander around at night despite having a reputation of mischief and troublemaking.

“The (Trindades) have a very bad taste in their mouths,” said Steven Kirschner, the family’s attorney. “As far as the parents are concerned, obviously, it’s important that the main people that were responsible for Roger’s death are held accountable, which the family doesn’t think they were in the criminal case. … That’s the main focus, but they have other concerns, as well.”

OCPS is named in the lawsuit because of its policy not to arrest bad actors — children or students who commit crimes, Kirschner said. The juvenile suspects in the Trindade case already had a reputation for trouble, he said.

“When you go on to the student conduct for Orange County Public Schools, you’ll see something called ‘zero tolerance,’ which in other places actually does mean zero tolerance,” he said. “But apparently, when it comes down to the Orange County schools, ‘zero tolerance’ means ‘absolute tolerance.’ No matter what a child does — it could be disruptive, it could be fights — the idea is you don’t suspend any child from school and no child gets permanently expelled. … The concern of the Trindades is that had the school system taken responsibility to keep children safe — and not allowing gangs to promulgate in schools and spill out into the communities — that their son may still be alive.”

Winter Park is named in the lawsuit for similar reasons. The city had received numerous complaints from businesses on Park Avenue about mischief by the juvenile suspects, but nothing was done in response, Kirschner said.

The wrongful death lawsuit was filed almost three months after a court case involving Sutherland, Hall and the third juvenile suspect came to a close. All three were reportedly involved in the altercation that took Trindade’s life. Sutherland and Hall were charged as adults for manslaughter and battery and found guilty May 2.

A judge however sentenced all three as juveniles. Hall and Sutherland both were sentenced to a high-risk program for juveniles Monday, July 16.

Assistant State Attorney Teri Mills-Uvalle said Hall and Sutherland could be confined to the program for nine to 14 months before potentially being released.

The third juvenile suspect in the case was charged with tampering with a witness and battery and sentenced in February to a non-secure residential commitment — a residential program for troubled youths — followed by post-commitment probation until his 19th birthday in 2022.

If the parties mentioned in the lawsuit had been more responsible, Roger Trindade never would have lost his life, Kirschner said.

“What happened to Roger was a perfect storm of absolute neglect,” he said. “The (Trindades) are looking for justice — that’s really the bottom line for them. … They’re also hoping that this lawsuit starts a discussion regarding change in policy — policy in the Orange County schools to make them more safe for good kids, the ones who want to learn, the ones that want to be there — and also in regard to how the city of Winter Park handles (its) law enforcement and hopefully better outreach to youth and better ways of identifying children who are in trouble who need help. 

“If we can get there, these things and these tragedies like what happened to this family … a lot of that will be taken care of,” Kirschner said. “That’s what the family is hoping for.”

Winter Park and OCPS do not comment during pending litigation.

Tim Freed is the Managing Editor for the West Orange Times & Observer and the Windermere Observer. He previously spent six years covering the Winter Park/Maitland area and is a graduate of the University of Central Florida....

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