Unarmed Caretaker of Young Man on the Autism Spectrum Shot by Police
Update: On June 17, 2019, Jonathan Aledda, the officer who shot at an autistic man but instead hit his caregiver Charles Kinsey in the leg in 2016, was convicted on a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence for his actions. According to the Miami Herald, the jury declined to charge Aledda with two felony counts of attempted manslaughter charges, which would have carried much steeper penalties. An earlier trial in March 2019 ended in a hung jury on three charges, resulting in a mistrial, and June’s retrial. Aledda could face up to a year in prison. Kinsey is suing the city of Miami.
Charles Kinsey, 47, was trying to retrieve the young man, who had wandered away from the assisted living facility where Kinsey works, and, according to reports, was blocking traffic.
In a video released by Kinsey’s attorney, Napoleon Hilton, Kinsey can be seen lying on the pavement with his arms up, attempting to get the young man to do the same. The young man sits beside Kinsey, fidgeting with the white toy truck in his hands.
“Rinaldo, please be still,” Kinsey says in the video. “Sit down, Rinaldo. Lay on your stomach.”
Moments later, Kinsey is heard appealing to police officers, who stand with guns cocked about 30 feet away.
“All he has is a toy truck in his hand. That’s all it is,” Kinsey is heard saying. “There is no need for guns.”
Editor’s note: the following video contains screaming as well as images of Kinsey with officers after being shot.
Shortly thereafter, Kinsey was shot in the leg by an officer. The incident was not captured on camera, but a second bystander video shows Kinsey and his patient being handcuffed, surrounded by officers. Kinsey’s attorney told reporters his client was made to lie on the pavement for 20 minutes before being transported to the hospital for treatment.
“I was really more worried about [my patient] than myself,” Kinsey told local news station WSVN from his hospital bed. “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.”
Kinsey told WSVN the gunshot left him shocked.
“I’m saying, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ and his words to me, he said, ‘I don’t know,’” Kinsey told the station.
In a press conference Thursday, police said officers on the scene were responding to a 911 call, made at 5:01 p.m., of an armed male suspect threatening suicide. The shooting officer, who has not been identified, has been placed on leave while the department and State Attorney investigate the case.
North Miami police chief Gary Eugene, who was sworn in July 12, refused to answer questions at the press conference.
In an email, Lori McIlwain, cofounder and chair of the board of the National Autism Association, told The Mighty:
Everyone at NAA is devastated by the recent event in Florida. Mr. Kinsey was clearly attempting to protect an individual with autism, and was in need of assistance… Wandering (elopement) is a common occurrence in the autism community, and individuals with autism may be unable to respond to verbal commands. We often see cases where an individual with autism elopes from a group home. These individuals are in need of understanding, support, and assistance.
She cited a photo that went viral in May, of an officer in Charlotte, North Carolina, consoling a teen with autism who had eloped from his high school, as a model of police involvement with autism.
“Individuals in our community, and the caretakers trying to protect them, should have our assistance and support,” McIlwain told The Mighty. “We encourage law enforcement agencies to visit local group homes to meet these beautiful individuals and their caregivers.”
UPDATE Thursday 7/22:
The police officer who shot Charles Kinsey Monday was reportedly aiming for the young man with autism whom Kinsey was trying to escort back to the nearby MACtown Panther Group Homes facility, according to NPR.
As Kinsey lay on the ground with his hands up, his patient sat nearby, holding a toy truck that was mistaken by both the 911 caller and police as a gun.
Believing that Kinsey’s life was in danger, the officer, described as a 30-year-old Hispanic man, discharged his weapon.
“Fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, the officer discharged his firearm, trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life,” John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, told reporters. “And he missed, and accidentally struck Mr. Kinsey.”
The officer said in a statement that he “did what he had to do”, and Rivera, of the local union, characterized the case as a misunderstanding, distinguishing it from other recent police-involved shootings of black men.
“This is not a case of a rogue cop; this is not a case of police abuse,” Rivera said, according to NPR. “Listen, Mr. Kinsey did everything right. Let’s be clear about that. Mr. Kinsey did everything right.”
According to NBC News, Kinsey was released from the hospital Thursday, the same day U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch indicated the Justice Department was working with local officials on the case.