Florida Highway Trooper Daniel Cole
Tampa, Florida - Some call him a "trigger-happy" trooper. Others call him a loyal law enforcement officer.
Embattled Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel Cole has made headlines over the years for his involvement in several high profile cases involving shootings, including the most recent in 2012 at Royal Palm North Cemetery in Pinellas Park. The trooper shot the cemetery owner, Clifford Work.
Now, Trooper Cole is facing two lawsuits filed in Pinellas County, one against him and the other against the Florida Highway Patrol, both filed by Cliff Work and his wife, Keri.
"This didn't have to happen," said Work's attorney, Howard Marks, on Tuesday afternoon. "We are here to get justice. Someone needs to rein that trooper in. What is going on in his mind?"
So, what exactly happened between the trooper and the cemetery owner that fateful night in the graveyard?
The 14-year veteran Florida State trooper shot the 48-year-old married father-of-two after the lawman claims he feared
for his life. Work spent days in the hospital recovering and has substantial medical bills, according to Marks.
"This has been a painful experience for him," said Marks. "[The trooper] did nothing right that night, absolutely nothing."
The circumstances started out oddly enough: a shoot-out at the Pinellas cemetery that Work owns. It began when the trooper got a LoJack hit on a stolen
motorcycle and followed the signal to the Royal Palm cemetery.
"It's like someone banging on the front door of your home in the middle of the night, when you're trying to protect yourself and your family, and they start firing without warning. What is wrong with this guy? Police can't do that," said Marks. "My client was protecting himself. He was terrified."
The motorcycle that Trooper Cole was looking for was a unique, custom job that some experts say is worth more than $60,000. Even though the trooper shot the cemetery owner, it turns out that the stolen motorcycle didn't have anything to do with him.
"There's nothing this trooper did right whatsoever," Marks told 10 News.
According to the 119-page FDLE report,
Cole heard music coming from a shed and banged on the door. Work told
police he had worked late and must have fallen asleep in the shed.
The report said Work woke up and grabbed his gun thinking someone was
breaking into his workshop. Work has a concealed weapons permit and said he cracked open the door just enough to see outside. He went on to say that the gun was pointed in the air, not at the trooper.
However, Trooper Cole tells a different story. He claims he feared for his life when
Work answered the door with a "gun pointed at him."
Sgt. Steve Gaskins said, "Officers don't like to be involved in
shooting instances. It's difficult for officers involved and for those
who take that step."
In the cemetery shooting, the trooper admits he fired his weapon 19
times, an AR-15 assault rifle that he retrieved from his trunk. The trooper told FDLE agents, "I was so uncomfortable and I was alone. I basically fired until I could no longer see him."
He continued, "It was the worst feeling ever and was just try to get
out of the way of the bullet. I just knew I was getting a round in me."
This isn't the first time the trooper has been in trouble.
In just over a decade, Trooper Daniel Cole shot an unarmed minister
on a traffic stop as the pastor reached for his own wallet. Then, the
trooper tazed an unarmed teenage girl, Danielle Maudsley, who was handcuffed, leaving her in
a vegetative state. She died this past September. Then, back in September, Trooper Cole shot the cemetery owner.
The trooper was cleared in all three incidents.
Trooper Cole's former co-worker said the shooting in the graveyard was the cemetery owner's fault.
Former FHP Auxiliary member Gene Lofgren talked about that night when the trooper pulled his weapon on the cemetery property. "You know, when you knock on the door, and the guy in the cemetery comes out
with a gun, it's the middle of the night, pointed at you! All they've got to do is pull the trigger and you're dead."
He added, "Dan is a good person. He's very polite. He's not out to
hurt people or shoot people. Those three instances are only times I've
known that he's pulled out a weapon."
In the end, Daniel Cole's friend said the trooper is tired of the negative attention.
"He's obviously not happy, but he's also been cleared. There's the stigma. That's what hurts," said Lofgren. "I mean, he's received all kinds of commendations: Trooper of the Year, Trooper of the Month, things like this. He's just a good guy. I
mean, it's a trying experience to go through; everyone condemns you. And
they look at one side and not the other side."
The Florida Highway Patrol and Trooper Cole will not comment on the case.