The attorney for the mental healthcare worker shot by a North Miami cop isn’t buying the police union’s explanation that the officer was trying to save his client’s life, but accidentally shot him instead.
Hilton Napoleon, who is representing behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey, said Friday that it was implausible that a trained SWAT team member could be that inaccurate from 50 yards or less.
“I don’t understand if he’s aiming at the autistic kid, how he could miss,” Napoleon said. If that was the case, said the attorney, “he had plenty of time to tell my client to move.”
Napoleon also questioned why if police were trying to save Kinsey’s life, they rolled him over and handcuffed him as he was bleeding from a bullet wound to his leg.
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“They handcuffed him after he got shot,” he said.
On Thursday, the head of the police union representing the officer said the cop actually took aim at the autistic man next to Kinsey, who was sitting cross-legged in the street and playing with a toy truck. The man, in his early 20s who hasn’t been named, had left a group home down the street and was sitting playing with a toy on the roadway when the behavioral therapist tried to retrieve him.
The healthcare worker’s attempt was stopped short when police responding to a 911 call ordered both men to the ground, then shot Kinsey, who spent several days before going home Thursday night.
Kinsey’s employer, Clinton Bower, president of MacTown Center for the Developmentally Disabled, issued a statement late Thursday saying “that Kinsey did everything in his power to de-escalate a very volatile and dangerous situation while complying fully with the orders of the North Miami police department.”
According to a law-enforcement source, the officer who shot Kinsey was taking cover behind a squad car and fired from at least 50 yards away. He shot after another officer, in a radio transmission, suggested the autistic man was loading a weapon, which turned out to be the toy truck, the source said.
John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, said the officer who shot Kinsey was actually trying to save the caregiver’s life because he feared the autistic man was going to harm him. Rivera said the admission was meant to calm the fears of a nation besieged with cellphone videos of police shooting and sometimes killing unarmed black men.
“I couldn’t allow this to continue for the community’s sake,” Rivera said on Thursday, during a hastily called press conference at the union’s Doral office. “Folks, this is not what the rest of the nation is going through.”
North Miami police and investigators have been tight-lipped since the Monday shooting, even as video of most of the encounter has been released. They are expected to release the police officer’s name and his personnel jacket at a press conference Friday afternoon.
As the bizarre story gained international attention, public pressure for answers have mounted.
Earlier Thursday, North Miami Police Chief Gary Eugene spoke briefly for the first time, but said little other than that no weapon had been found and that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement had taken over the investigation.
The chief didn’t take any questions and refused to name the officer. The city said he is a 30-year-old Hispanic male who has been on the force for four years. As Eugene was leaving the podium, he refused to answer even more questions.
Rivera called the officer who shot Charles Kinsey, “decorated” and said he was a member of city’s SWAT team. The caretaker, he said, was an unintended victim.
“Mr. Kinsey did everything right,” Rivera said.
The autistic man ignored the orders of police yelling for the men to lie down. Some of the officers were behind poles on the street. Others were behind their patrol vehicles.
While Kinsey was lying supine with his hands in the air and the autistic man sat beside him, an officer fired three rounds from an assault rifle, according to North Miami police. One bullet found a target — Kinsey.
In interviews, Kinsey said he repeatedly told police while he was lying on the ground that there was no weapon and not to shoot. Rivera said North Miami police couldn’t hear his cries. The union president didn’t know how far the police were from Kinsey.
The shooting took place about a block from the MacTown Panther Group Home at 1365 NE 128th St. It’s a slightly run-down home with a hibiscus hedge, a blue basketball hoop and a weed-filled planter.
At one point Thursday a blue minivan filled with special-needs folks pulled up and workers escorted them by hand into the home. Neighbors say it’s not uncommon for adults to go on walks around the neighborhood, often in groups and always with a caretaker. Kinsey was shot just around the corner from the home, in front of an electrical grid station.
The shooting of Kinsey and the video that accompanied the stories caused an uproar. Thursday night about 40 Black Lives Matter protestors stormed into the North Miami police department demanding that the officer who shot Kinsey be fired.
Earlier in the day, Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens visited North Miami Thursday and made a brief statement saying, “We’re all in shock today,” and calling for officers to be trained in dealing with autism and mental-health issues.
Rivera said it wasn’t clear Thursday if the officer who fired his weapon had undergone Crisis Intervention Training. The session is required in many departments when an officer joins and is urged as a refresher in ensuing years. It is not required in North Miami.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said her office would wait for the findings of the FDLE investigation before determining if the officer should face criminal charges.
Despite Rivera’s admission, firearms experts and civil liberty groups expressed dismay at the shooting, mostly laying the blame on improper training and poor decision-making.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida called for North Miami police to review its use-of-force policies and how they equip officers in dealing with autistic and mentally ill people.
In his statement, ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon cited the recent shooting deaths of Philando Castile in Minnesota, Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Vernell Bing in Jacksonville. Simon said of the 598 people the ACLU has documented who were shot and killed by police in the U.S. this year, 88 were unarmed.
“Kinsey or his patient could easily have become No. 89,” he said. “There must be a thorough and independent investigation into this shooting that covers both whether officers violated internal use of deadly force policies and whether criminal charges should be brought.”
Retired firearms expert Robert Hoelscher, who spent 50 years with the Miami-Dade Police Department, said it’s hard to perceive how the situation was misjudged, but it was — grossly.
“I wish there was something positive I could say. You arrive on scene and a guy’s playing with a toy truck. Why do you bring out the assault rifle?” Hoelscher asked. “You can’t get enough training when you’re dealing with lethal force. This is as bad a situation as I’ve ever seen. It’s a good thing he was obviously a lousy marksman.”
Rivera, at the end of his press conference Thursday, read from a statement he said was from the North Miami officer who shot Kinsey.
“I took this job to save lives and help people,” the officer said. “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.”