North Miami police chief Gary Eugene has been placed on paid administrative leave and is expected to resign from the department, at least in part as the result of an internal affairs investigation into last summer’s shooting of Charles Kinsey.
The city’s announcement of Eugene’s pending departure came one day after police Cmdr. Emile Hollant was notified he was being fired, fallout from the same investigation.
Eugene, who has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience, just returned from a scheduled medical leave that started last month. A letter obtained by the Miami Herald states that Eugene’s leave is in effect as of Thursday and Eugene has until July 7 to accept the city’s separation agreement or he will be fired.
“Some of the circumstances that have come out as part of the [internal affairs] process with the shooting have kind of led me to this decision to move forward,” said City Manager Larry Spring.
The shooting took place last July when Jonathan Aledda, a North Miami SWAT member, fired his rifle and struck Kinsey in the leg as Kinsey lay on his back with his arms in the air.
Kinsey was lying next to Arnaldo Rios, a severely autistic 27-year-old man whom Kinsey cared for. Rios 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.
Eugene said he has not made a decision on the separation agreement and wants to look it over with an attorney. He described the situation as a “travesty of justice” and said he was caught off guard by Spring’s decision when the two met Thursday morning.
“I thought the meeting was in regards to the intent to terminate letter that was sent to the commander, so I wasn’t prepared to review [the agreement],” Eugene said.
During the Miami-Dade state attorney’s investigation, Hollant said that 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.
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. Hollant remained suspended then, but his pay was reinstated. North Miami released the internal affairs findings into Hollant’s actions that day — and they directly contradict the state’s findings.
When Eugene was interviewed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement last year he described a department in disarray and plagued with infighting.
Through the Kinsey situation he said he learned that Deputy Chief Larry Juriga and Commander Angel Rivera had issues with Hollant and believed that those issues led them to mislead him and city leaders about Hollant. But in his statements as part of the city’s internal affairs investigation he said Hollant lied to him. The city found that the commander misled Eugene by saying he wasn’t present during the shooting.
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.”
In his internal affairs interview with the city, Eugene said that he has since apologized to Juriga and Rivera for thinking they had misled him about Hollant.
Spring said the change in Eugene’s statements about Hollant and about his role in the shooting also influenced the decision to fire him.
“Certainly that is a factor and is a very serious component,” Spring said.
Juriga, as acting chief, made the decision to terminate Hollant while Eugene was on leave. Spring described the timing as “coincidental.”
“The chief made the decision to put Larry [Juriga] in charge during his medical leave so obviously he had confidence in Larry’s ability to lead the department,” Spring said.
Eugene said that he had only been notified of the city’s plans to reorganize the department’s command staff and he didn’t know that Hollant was going to be disciplined while he was gone.
“A decision like that should be made by the chief, not the acting chief,” Eugene said.
Eugene became North Miami’s police chief about a week before the shooting and said he considered resigning after the incident, which gained national headlines and sparked local protests.
Eugene is the city’s third police chief since 2014. His predecessor, Leonard Burgess, retired and eventually took a job in Miramar. Before him, Marc Elias held the position but he resigned in February 2014 amid criticism of his use of about $14,000 in city funds to pay for seven trips to Haiti.
Eugene rose through the ranks in Miami, starting with the department in 1985 and moving up to become, successively, the first Haitian-American sergeant, lieutenant, captain and commander in the Miami Police Department’s history. He served on the force’s neighborhood enhancement team for years, working in Little Haiti and Miami’s Upper East Side.