The commander in charge of the scene when police shot behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey was notified Wednesday he was being fired after an internal affairs investigation by North Miami police concluded that he hindered an investigation into the shooting and misled the police chief.
North Miami Police Cmdr. Emile Hollant was in charge last year when Jonathan Aledda, a North Miami SWAT member, fired his rifle and struck Kinsey in the leg. The mental healthcare worker was obeying police commands, lying on his back with his arms in the air and begging officers not to fire when he was shot.
Kinsey was lying next to Arnaldo Rios, a severely autistic 27-year-old man who Kinsey cared for and who was sitting in the middle of the road playing with a shiny toy truck. Aledda, who said he mistook the toy for a weapon, said he was aiming at Rios when he fired, but missed and struck Kinsey. Kinsey survived.
During the Miami-Dade state attorney’s investigation, Hollant said he was told the shiny object in Rios’s hand might have been a toy and that he was headed for his patrol car to get binoculars so he could have a more clear view, when Aledda fired.
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Within three weeks of the shooting, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office concluded that Hollant told the truth when he said he was not at the scene when shots were fired.
On Wednesday, North Miami released the internal affairs findings into Hollant’s actions that day — and they directly contradict the state’s findings.
The city’s investigation quoted two officers at the scene who said Hollant was gone less than 30 seconds and that the commander was standing near them looking through binoculars when Aledda fired his rifle. The city determined it would have taken a minimum of 1 minute and 22 seconds for Hollant to race from the scene to his patrol car to retrieve his binoculars, then return.
The city also said Hollant misled Police Chief Gary Eugene by saying he wasn’t present during the shooting. As a result, the report says, Hollant was not separated and interviewed about the shooting, a standard practice for witnesses.
The investigation “revealed Commander Hollant appears to have been present prior, during, and after the shooting incident,” the Internal Affairs report concluded. “Commander Hollant was the highest ranking officer on the scene and should have taken command of the scene.”
The city’s findings turned on an interview with Eugene, who said that he initially believed Hollant’s account but changed his view after learning that the officer gave a radio dispatch from the scene but did not offer further instruction to other officers before Aledda fired his shots.
“There was a gap between his radio transmission and what the officer did,” Eugene said. “He lied to me, the commander completely lied to me.”
Hollant’s attorney, Michael Joseph, said Hollant is being used as a “fall guy” in the incident.
“The city administration is doubling down on a lie that they pushed on the day of the shooting and in the days following the shooting,” Joseph said. “Myself and my client look forward to a full exoneration and for the truth to fully come out.”
City Manager Larry Spring said the decision to fire Hollant was made by the acting chief, Larry Juriga, because Eugene is out on medical leave.
Spring described the investigation and Wednesday’s decision as “part of the due process that we promised the community we would follow.”
“Like with any department we’re going to have some issues that need to be addressed and we’re going to address them,” Spring said.
The city’s decision, made after the state attorney cleared Hollant of any wrongdoing, comes as Katherine Fernandez Rundle faces backlash over her office’s lack of prosecutions of corrupt or violent law enforcement officers. Fernandez-Rundle, who has been state attorney since 1993, is considering a run for governor or attorney general in 2018.
The Miami Herald recently documented several inconsistent or misleading statements from Fernandez Rundle after criticism of her office’s decision that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against four corrections officers accused of using scalding showers to punish inmate Darren Rainey at the Dade Correctional Institution. Rainey, a 50-year-old schizophrenic black man, died in custody at the facility in 2012.
Hollant told state investigators last summer that after he made a radio dispatch that Rios appeared to be loading a weapon, he left. The memo stated that “he had returned to his police vehicle, over a city block from the location of the victims of the shooting, to retrieve his binoculars when he heard gunshots” a few minutes later.
Hollant, who had been with the department since 2000, had remained suspended with pay in recent months. His attorney has argued for the officer’s reinstatement since February and is considering further legal action after filing an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint earlier this year.
Hollant had been promoted to commander about a week before the Kinsey shooting. Before joining the North Miami department, Hollant was an officer with the Pinecrest police department.
The findings are the latest wrinkle in the fallout from last summer’s shooting. In an interview with Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators, less than two weeks after the shooting, Eugene described his department as being in disarray and plagued with infighting before, during and after the incident.
The interview also revealed that Eugene thought his staff was untrained and not prepared to handle homicide investigations. He said when he got to the shooting scene, officers were trampling over everything, tainting possible evidence. The city has since changed its training procedures for officers.
The shooting of Kinsey, who is black, came just weeks after the fatal police-involved shootings of two unarmed black men, Philando Castile in Minnesota and Alton Sterling in Louisiana. It was another incident in the midst of heightened tensions between police and the community and put North Miami in a national spotlight.
In April, state prosecutors charged Aledda with attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence. It was the first time in the past 28 years the State Attorney's Office had charged a police officer. Aledda remains suspended with pay.
Legal battles still loom for the department. Kinsey filed a federal lawsuit last August against Aledda and last week added the city, Hollant and other officers as defendants. And last week an attorney filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rios’ family against the city and multiple officers. In both lawsuits, Kinsey and Rios claim that the police used excessive force and wrongfully arrested the men after the shooting.