A Florida officer who claims he shot at a severely autistic man and wounded his caretaker in the process has been found guilty of a misdemeanor but escaped a conviction on more serious charges.
A jury on Monday found North Miami officer Jonathan Aledda guilty of culpable negligence in the 2016 shooting of therapist Charles Kinsey, but declined to convict him on two felony counts of attempted manslaughter, NBC News reported. Aledda, a then four-year veteran of the North Miami police force and SWAT Team member, shot Kinsey during what he said he thought was a hostage situation.
Video taken moments before the shooting showed the behavioral therapist lying on the ground with his hands in the air as he shouted to officers that surrounding the scene that he and the autistic man he was caring for were unarmed.
The “standoff” ended with Kinsey being struck in the leg.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the guilty verdict showed the shooting wasn’t an accident, but a crime.
“Since July 18, 2016, our community has been traumatized by North Miami Police Officer Jonathan Aledda’s shooting of mental health therapist Charles Kinsey,” Rundle said in a statement. Tonight a jury decided that the shooting was not an error or an accident but the crime of culpable negligence.”
The officer pleaded guilty to the criminal charges, and his first trial ended in a mistrial in March after jurors found him not guilty of culpable negligence but was deadlocked on the other charges.
The July 2016 incident unfolded when Kinsey’s client, Arnaldo Rios Soto, wandered away from a nearby group home carrying a sliver toy truck. A passerby who spotted the disabled man sitting in the middle of a intersection playing with it mistook it for a gun, however, and called police to report an armed suicidal man. That’s when up to six officers arrived, including Aledda, and a chaotic scene unfolded, with the autistic man shouting and police closest to the intersection trying to relay to others that there was no gun involved.
“I was really more worried about [Rios] than myself,” Kinsey told Miami’s WSVN at the time. “I was thinking as long as I have my hands up … they’re not going to shoot me. This is what I’m thinking, they’re not going to shoot me. Wow, was I wrong.”
Armed with a rifle, Aledda took cover behind a car some 50 yards from the scene. The officer said he was aiming for Rios Soto, whom he thought was holding Kinsey hostage, but missed. He fireds three rounds, one of them striking the caretaker in the leg.
In court Monday, Aledda said Kinsey seemed to be shouting for help and feared he “might get shot.” By that time, officers had just received radio communication that the weapon Rios Sotos held was actually a toy.
Witness video of the moments that led to the shooting exploded on social media, sparking outrage and calls for better police training when dealing with those who have mental disabilities, and people of color as well.
“Police should take an active role and visit group homes, schools and community centers in their cities and towns and meet their residents who live with significant disabilities so they are never perceived as threats by just merely existing,” Matthew Dietz, an attorney for Rios Soto told NBC News earlier this week.
With the guilty verdict now in, the North Miami Police Department says it’s now taking steps to boot Aledda from the force, NBC Miami reported. The department said in a statement that Aledda was placed on leave without pay following the shooting and has since been given a notice of termination.
“We respect the Criminal Justice System, and we are empathetic to the feelings of all who have been affected by this tragic incident,” the statement read. “The North Miami Police Department will continue its mission of building community trust and partnerships. Together, we will progress through healing and peace.”
As for Kinsey, he filed a lawsuit against Aledda in 2016.