North Miami - NMB

He’s earned $175,000 on leave since controversial police shooting but wants $5M more

From left, former North Miami Police commander, Emile Hollant and his lawyer, Michael Pizzi, during a press conference at Pizziâs office in Miami Lakes, to speak about a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Miami on behalf of Hollant against the City of North Miami. November 17, 2017.
From left, former North Miami Police commander, Emile Hollant and his lawyer, Michael Pizzi, during a press conference at Pizziâs office in Miami Lakes, to speak about a lawsuit filed in Federal Court in Miami on behalf of Hollant against the City of North Miami. November 17, 2017.

It’s a standoff that has cost North Miami taxpayers close to $175,000, left the city with one less senior police officer, and remains a sticking point for a city trying to move past a controversial police shooting.

And now, 16 months after behavioral specialist Charles Kinsey was shot lying flat on his back with his hands in the air while trying to protect his severely autistic patient, it’s finally got a legal name: Police Cmdr. Emile Hollant vs. the city of North Miami.

Hollant, in charge of a chaotic July 2016 shooting that put the city in an unwanted national spotlight, hasn’t worked a single day since. Yet he hasn’t lost a paycheck or any benefits, either. The city, wading through investigations and trying to avoid a lawsuit, never fired him. Hollant, expecting a legal settlement, has refused to quit.

Now, trying to force the city’s hand, Hollant on Friday filed a lawsuit in federal court demanding $5 million in compensatory damages and claiming the city has violated his civil rights, inflicted emotional distress and is punishing him for a being a whistle-blower, among other things.

“Emile Hollant has been crucified and had his life destroyed and placed on virtual house arrest for almost two years,” Hollant’s attorney, Michael Pizzi, said on Friday. “They’ve engaged in a pattern of lies, deceit and an irresponsible witch hunt.”

The conditions of Hollant’s leave if he wishes to continue to be paid his salary and benefits, which add up to $131,000 each year: He must remain home during working hours. He can leave only with the consent of a supervisor. On nights, weekends, holidays and mornings before work, he’s free to do as he wishes. Holland, 55, also gets vacation time off.

North Miami, noting that two outside administrative agencies have determined Hollant wasn’t discriminated against, calls it “ironic” that it’s being forced to defend Hollant and others in lawsuits filed by the two who were actually victimized by the shooting.

Video shows the scene before and after caretaker Charles Kinsey is shot. He is seen lying in the street with a 26-year-old man with autism before being hit by a bullet from an assault rifle fired by a North Miami police officer.

“Commander Hollant remains on paid administrative leave while we finalize due process he alleges we are circumventing,” North Miami City Manager Larry Spring said in a prepared statement. “In fact, we have provided Commander Hollant and his attorneys several opportunities to discuss this employment matter and possible resolutions.”

North Miami Councilman Scott Galvin, who was outspoken about what he perceived as Hollant’s mismanagement of the shooting scene in its immediate aftermath, is also named in the commander’s lawsuit. Galvin denies the city has been stringing Hollant along.

“You have to allow someone every opportunity before you terminate their employment,” said the councilman. “Like it or not like it, he has the right to file appeals and other courses of action.”

In the suit, Hollant claims the city intentionally inflicted emotional distress, that it violated the Whistle Blower statute and that Galvin slandered him after the shooting.

“Today he can’t leave his home,” Pizzi said during a Friday news conference at his office. “He’s still under virtual house arrest. He’s been ordered by the city of North Miami to sit home and not go anywhere.”

Hollant, who was by the attorney’s side during the briefing, often whispered into Pizzi’s ear, but otherwise remained silent.

It was a late afternoon on July 18 of last year when a severely autistic man with an IQ of 40 named Arnaldo Rios walked out of a North Miami facility that treats the mentally disabled, named MACtown. He wandered a few blocks, then sat down in the middle of the road.

A passing motorist, concerned that Rios might harm himself, called 911. By the time police arrived, Rios’ behavior specialist, Charles Kinsey, had found him and was by his side. The police arrived and believing that a silver toy truck held by Rios was a gun, ordered both men to the ground.

The next few minutes created one of the iconic pictures of the year, changed the lives of two men forever and threw a city and its police department into disarray.

On the ground, Kinsey, wearing dark shorts and a bright yellow shirt, obeyed the command and raised his hands up in the air while on his back. On a cellphone video taken just before the shooting, you can clearly hear Kinsey telling Rios to lie down and begging officers not to shoot because Rios was holding a toy and couldn’t understand them.

His hands and arms remained in the air the entire time.

Still, Rios, unable to understand the command, remained seated upright and continued to fiddle with the truck. Jonathan Aledda, a department sharpshooter, opened fire. One of the bullets struck Kinsey in the leg. Police said they were aiming at Rios, whose truck they believed was a gun.

Hollant, the on-scene commander, said he missed the shooting because he went back to his patrol car to retrieve binoculars to get a closer look at what Rios was holding. North Miami administrators didn’t believe him. Hollant would later criticize the department for having its SWAT commander investigate one of his own men.

Hollant was suspended for a week, then placed on administrative leave with full pay and benefits. Investigations into Hollant’s actions by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, concluded in August that Hollant was telling the truth.

Still, a probe into the commander’s actions contradicted the state’s findings. Hollant, 55, joined the North Miami Police Department in 1999. Before that he worked as a cop in Pinecrest and at Miami-Dade Corrections.

Kinsey has recovered since the shooting, but no longer works at MACtown. Rios, who spent time in the mental ward at Aventura Hosptial after the shooting, is now at a facility in North Florida. Kinsey has a pending lawsuit against Aledda. Gary Eugene, the police chief at the time of the shooting who was later fired by Spring, also filed a federal lawsuit against the city.

Charles Rabin: 305-376-3672, @ChuckRabin

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3