Charles Kinsey lay in the street with his arms above his head, begging police not to shoot. Sitting next to him, an autistic man held a toy truck. To many who later watched a viral video of the July 2016 scene, it was clear neither man posed a threat.
But North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda saw things differently before he fired three times, hitting Kinsey, who is black, in the thigh and setting off a firestorm amid national debates over police violence, racism and accountability. As he testified on Monday, Aledda thought the toy car was a gun and that the autistic man, Arnaldo Rios Soto, was about to shoot Kinsey, 47, a therapist from Soto’s group home. He said he was aiming for Soto but accidentally hit Kinsey instead.
A jury on Monday found that Aledda, 33, acted negligently in the shooting, convicting him of a misdemeanor. But the panel also dismissed two more serious felony charges of attempted manslaughter.
“We thought he should have never been charged to begin with,” Douglas Hartman, Aledda’s attorney, told NBC 6. “We’re disappointed that [the jury] found him guilty of a misdemeanor.”
The mixed verdict came three months after another jury deadlocked on the charges, which were the first filed against a police officer in Miami-Dade County for an on-duty shooting since 1989. Prosecutors praised Monday’s result, despite the failure to get convictions on the felony counts.
“We think the verdict as delivered was fair,” Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Horn told the Miami Herald.
In court, prosecutors tried to paint Aledda as a reckless cop who could have killed Soto and Kinsey despite clear warnings from other officers to back off. The standoff on July 18, 2016, had started when a passing motorist saw Soto with the shiny miniature truck and thought he was holding a gun to his head.
But after police surrounded Soto and Kinsey, who had left the group home to try to help the autistic man, other cops quickly recognized that he was only holding a toy. One officer testified on Monday that he said so on the police radio, the Herald reported. Kinsey can also be heard yelling on camera, “All he has is a toy truck!”
Despite those warnings, Aledda — a trained SWAT officer with an M4 carbine — fired repeatedly from about 50 yards away, wounding Kinsey, who survived. Fueled by a viral video filmed by a bystander, the incident set off waves of protests and calls for better police training on how to interact with disabled people like Soto, whose family said he was profoundly traumatized. Aledda was charged in April 2017.
In court this week, prosecutors argued that he’d ignored clear evidence that there was no need to fire. “He rushed to judgment and he chose death,” Horn told jurors, the Herald reported.
But Aledda testified that he never heard any reports on the radio that Soto was only holding a toy.
“I believed it was a hostage situation,” he testified, the Herald reported. “It appeared he was screaming for mercy or for help or something. In my mind, the white male had a gun."
Aledda’s attorneys also presented evidence that the police response had been chaotic and that the officers’ radios hadn’t worked properly. Before Aledda fired, another officer on the scene had erroneously said on the radio that Soto was “reloading,” jurors heard.
In the end, the jurors couldn’t support the two felony charges under “our reading of the law,” the panel’s foreperson told the Herald. Instead, they found Aledda guilty of one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence. Aledda faces up to one year in prison.
Kinsey and Soto have lawsuits pending against the city of North Miami, the Herald reported.
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