Florida prosecutors charge police officer in shooting of autistic man's caretaker

Washington Post

Prosecutors on Wednesday charged a police officer in North Miami, Florida, with attempted manslaughter for shooting and wounding a man who was lying in the street with his hands raised in the air.

The shooting in July 2016 was recorded in what became a widely shared viral video, one of many violent encounters between police and black men and boys that prompted national scrutiny in recent years. This case drew intense widespread attention both due the dramatic footage of the man pleading with officers and what emerged about the other man sitting next to him.

The injured man, Charles Kinsey, who survived the shooting, worked as a behavioral therapist at a group home. The man sitting cross-legged next to him was a resident who had apparently wandered away and sat down on the ground while holding a toy truck; he has been identified in court documents as Arnoldo Soto, 27, and described as nonverbal.

On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office announced that Officer Jonathan Aledda - a SWAT team member who had been commended for his police work - would be charged with one count of attempted manslaughter, a third-degree felony, and one count of culpable negligence, a first-degree misdemeanor.

In a statement announcing the charges and the issuing of an arrest warrant, the state attorney's office criticized Aledda's actions, noting that while two officers were within 20 feet of Kinsey, Aledda was more than 150 feet away when he fired three shots from his rifle. One round struck Kinsey in the thigh.

"Officer Aledda was not in a position to correctly assess the situation or in a position to accurately fire," the statement said.

In the video recording, which did not capture the entire incident, Kinsey could be heard trying to calm Soto down and urging him to lie down in the street.

The police union representing Aledda defended the officer after the shooting, saying he was aiming for Soto because he was afraid the man held a gun and threatened Kinsey's life.

An affidavit filed in circuit court to support the arrest warrant outlined a more detailed narrative of the shooting nine months earlier. A special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), which investigated Aledda's use of deadly force, described him as firing shots despite other officers saying Soto did not have a gun.

When the shots were fired, two officers who had heard that Soto was not holding a gun were preparing to approach the two men in the street, and one of the officers had just stepped out of cover when Aledda fired, wrote Daniel Mosquera, the FDLE special agent and a former Coral Gables, Florida, police sergeant, who was the lead investigator into the shooting.

Mosquera wrote that on the day of the shooting, Kinsey was providing the one-on-one, round-the-clock care Soto required when the man with autism fled the group home while holding his toy truck. This had happened before, Mosquera wrote, so Kinsey was not worried. (Media reports have also identified Soto as Arnaldo Rios.)

However, not long after Soto sat at an intersection, police officers arrived with assault rifles, so Kinsey put his hands in the air and tried pleading with Soto. Police were called by someone who believed that Soto was holding a gun to his head, according to 911 calls and dispatcher transmissions described by Mosquera. The police dispatcher did not note that a 911 caller had said she was not sure whether Soto had a gun, Mosquera wrote.

Officers on the scene determined that the toy truck did not appear to be a gun, and according to Mosquera, Aledda "expressed uncertainty about whether the object was a gun," asking another officer what he thought before the shooting.

In the affidavit, Mosquera wrote that Soto's behavior changed only after shots were fired, as he stood up and yelled when Kinsey began screaming in pain.

After the shooting, the affidavit states, Aledda approached a sergeant and said: "I need to talk to you. I'm the one who shot."

Charges against police officers for on-duty shootings are rare nationwide, though that number has ticked up recently. South Florida is no exception. According to the Miami Herald, Aledda is the first officer charged for an on-duty shooting under Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has been the Miami-Dade County State Attorney since 1993. A former Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, officer was charged last year with a deadly shooting in that area well north of Miami.

After footage of the Kinsey shooting quickly spread online, John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association, defended Aledda and said the officer had made a mistake. Rivera, whose union is representing Aledda, criticized the decision to bring the charges on Wednesday.

"In this case, we're going to be able to show how politically motivated, vindictive and incompetent that the state attorney is," Rivera told the Miami Herald. "The law is a very simple thing - intent. They're never going to be able to prove that this guy acted maliciously or recklessly in any way."

The union did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

The shooting occurred at a time of intense national scrutiny on cases involving police using force, particularly many incidents caught on camera, a broad tapestry that has touched on deadly shootings in Minnesota, South Carolina and Ohio as well as a chokehold in New York City and a pool party in Texas.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and its Miami chapter praised the decision to bring charges on Wednesday, saying that they hoped the North Miami police force used the shooting as a chance "to thoroughly review trainings and procedures" to further help respond to "situations involving individuals with mental and developmental disabilities."

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