Last summer John Rivera caused a ruckus when he proclaimed that the bullet fired by North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda that struck behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey was actually meant for the severely autistic 26-year-old man Kinsey was caring for and trying to protect.
Rivera was trying to calm a community on edge at a time when violent protests were erupting around the country after the shooting deaths of several unarmed black men by police. Standing before a swarm of reporters, Rivera said Aledda had taken aim at Arnaldo Rios, whose toy truck police believed was a weapon — and missed.
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Last week, after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office announced it had pressed criminal charges against Aledda for the Kinsey shooting, Rivera erupted again. This time in a pair of blistering letters he sent to Police Benevolent Association union members and to North Miami City Manager Larry Spring.
In the letter to fellow PBA members dated April 13, Rivera said he’s seen several gross miscarriages of justice over the years, “but seldom one as gross and disgusting as the recent arrest of one of our own, fellow North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda.”
A day later, Spring received a letter from Rivera blasting his police chief for statements he made to the state attorney during a sworn deposition in the Kinsey shooting.
“I write to express our complete disgust with the false, irresponsible and defamatory statements made by current Police Chief Gary Eugene…” Rivera wrote.
On Wednesday, Rivera stood by both letters, which were first reported by the Miami New Times.
“The police chief basically called his department incompetent, then went to some roll calls to apologize,” said Rivera. “This case is riddled with problems.”
Asked if he took issue with Rivera’s statements about his police chief, Spring said it’s Rivera’s job to advocate for his troops and said the city has instituted new training for officers. But the city manager also didn’t respond when asked if he fully supported his chief’s views, instead saying Eugene’s statements on the department’s inadequacies “may have been premature.”
Rivera’s blasting of Eugene was in reference to an hour-long interview the chief agreed to with the state attorney’s office that was recorded and released publicly two weeks ago. During the interview, Eugene, who was new to his role as chief in North Miami when the shooting happened last summer, spoke of warring factions within the department and how many officers lacked training when it came to crisis and active shooter situations.
Kinsey was shot in the leg and injured by Aledda last July while lying on his back in the roadway and wearing a bright yellow shirt. The therapist’s arms were raised in surrender as Rios sat upright next to him playing with a toy truck police said they believed was a weapon.
Aledda, 30, has been with the North Miami police department for five years. He has been suspended with pay since the July 2016 shooting.
The iconic picture at the height of national protests shot through the Internet like lightening, with the case catching the attention of media around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement. Last week, state prosecutors announced they had charged Aledda with attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence.
It was the first time prosecutors under Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle had charged an officer for an on-duty shooting. They said Aledda was more than 150 feet away from Kinsey, while two other officers — also armed with rifles — were within 20 feet and did not feel threatened.
Aledda “was not in a position to correctly assess the situation or in a position to accurately fire,” the state attorney’s office said.
Rivera — who caused a firestorm with his remarks last summer — didn’t hesitate to strike back at the state attorney soon after the charges were filed against Aledda last week. Rivera said there was no intent on Aledda’s part to injure Kinsey and added, “We’re going to be able to show how politically motivated, vindictive and incompetent that the state attorney is.”
Then last week in his letter to union members, Rivera said “the state attorney’s weak strength of character has allowed the arrest of heroes, all while career criminals regularly get off …” He went on to say, “It is not secret that the state attorney’s office has been chomping at the bit to arrest an officer regardless of any evidence or even wrongdoing.”
Fernandez Rundle’s office chose not to respond to Rivera’s statements on Wednesday.
In the letter Rivera wrote the next day to Spring, the union chief called Eugene’s contention that officers lacked training, “misplaced.”
“Rather, the chief’s comments reek of a self-preservation agenda intended to avoid any responsibility and deflect any criticism to others, including you,” wrote Rivera.
Eugene, reached Wednesday, said he probably could have been more careful in some of his statements during the deposition. But like Spring, he said many of the shortfalls he saw in his department have since been addressed through new training.
“I stand behind what I told the state attorney,” said the North Miami police chief. “We have to proceed in the department and ensure things like this do not happen again.”