Miami cop was aiming at autistic man, not worker, police say

Officer Jonathan Aledda released a statement Thursday, attempting to quell speculation that racial bias played a role in the shooting of a health care worker trying to assist an autistic patient.

Zachary Fagenson/Reuters
Miami resident Gabriel Pendas stands alone outside the North Miami police department after a press conference on Thursday.

Jonathan Aledda, the North Miami police officer who shot African-American health care worker Charles Kinsey on Monday, was really aiming for the autistic man whom Mr. Kinsey was trying to assist, out of concern for Kinsey's safety, he said in a Thursday statement. 

Although the unnamed police officer and the head of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, John Rivera, intended to inject calm into the national fervor surrounding an epidemic of police shootings of unarmed black men, the admission may also indicate a need for greater sensitivity in police dealings with mentally ill people, disabled people, and people in emotional distress.

“There must be a thorough and independent investigation into this shooting,” ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement, “that covers both whether officers violated internal use of deadly force policies and whether criminal charges should be brought.”

In his statement, Mr. Simon also asked that the North Miami Police Department consider its policies for dealing with mentally ill or autistic people. While many police departments require Crisis Intervention Training, the course is not mandatory for North Miami police officers, and it is unclear whether or not the officer who shot Kinsey ever participated.

On Thursday, US Congresswoman Frederica Wilson also called for better training for officers. Several other groups have blamed the incident on improper training as well.

Some departments across the nation are trying to ensure that people in severe emotional distress receive appropriate response from police and other emergency workers, as The Christian Science Monitor has previously reported. In Los Angeles, for example, police officers undergo mandatory training on how to deal with people in emotional crisis and work directly alongside counselors from the L.A. County Department of Mental Health. 

On Monday, North Miami police officers responded to reports of a man in the roadway with a gun, potentially attempting to kill himself. When they arrived on the scene, they found Kinsey and an unnamed resident of a nearby group home. Kinsey was attempting to aid the resident and help him return the center.

When officers ordered the men to lie down with their hands up, Kinsey complied, but the autistic man did not. Three shots were fired, wounding Kinsey.

According to North Miami law enforcement officials, the officer who shot Kinsey did so in an attempt to help him, believing the autistic man was attempting to load a gun. Instead, he was merely playing with a small toy truck.

“I took this job to save lives and help people,” the officer who shot Kinsey wrote in a statement. “I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me as something that I’m not.”

Despite the officer's statement, protesting the idea that his decision to shoot was racially motivated, national discussion about policing and police violence remains fraught.

“I couldn’t allow this to continue for the community’s sake,” said Rivera at a press conference on Thursday. “Folks, this is not what the rest of the nation is going through.”

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