MIAMI (CBSMiami) – One of the men suspected of a operating a marijuana grow house in Southwest Miami-Dade, which burned down after a shootout with police, will not appear before a judge for at least several days.
Brian Howell, 29, is facing a drug trafficking charge and made his first appearance in a Miami courtroom on Thursday.
After being taken into custody, Howell reportedly confessed during questioning that he helped run a hydroponics lab in a home in the 15400 block of SW 57th Street to grow marijuana. Inside one of the charred rooms of the home, police found eight damaged marijuana plants, according to Howell’s arrest report. He’s been charged with one count of possession of a place to manufacture a controlled substance. Bond was set at $5,000.
Acting on a tip, Miami-Dade detectives went to the house Tuesday night around 7 p.m. as part of a narcotics operation.
“As they approached the door the subjects inside the house opened fire on the detectives,” said Miami-Dade police spokesman Det. Alvaro Zabaleta. “They immediately returned fire and three of the subjects were able to flee on foot.”
During the exchange of gunfire, a fire broke out in the house which quickly spread. Police identified the men who ran from the home as Howell, 50-year old Dell DiGiovanni and 28-year old Michael DiGiovanni.
Wednesday afternoon the body of the elder DiGiovanni was found hanging from a tree in front of a home at SW 147 Avenue and SW 48 Terrace. Investigators also found human remains in the burned out home that may be Michael DiGiovanni, the only missing suspect.
Former Miami police chief Ken Harms called the case rare because grow house operators, with minor records, don’t usually open fire on police because the criminal penalties don’t justify it.
Harms believes it could have been a case of mistaken identity.
“Believing they are being raided by their competition, so they start shooting before they realize it’s the police,” said Harms.
CBS4 also learned about the massive police force that swarmed the scene minutes after the shooting. It turns out the Miami-Dade Police Department had two field force teams training that night. The groups of upwards of 100 officers are typically used for riot and crowd control.
In addition to the Miami-Dade officers already in the area, the two field forces broke away from training. Coral Gables sent 20 officers. Sweetwater sent 13. Hialeah and Opa Locka sent officers as well. All told it was more than 200 officers.
“That’s more police officers than probably 95% of the police departments in the country have,” Harms said.