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Before police shooting, 911 caller cautioned man might be mentally ill

Charles Kinsey discusses shooting after meeting with autistic man he cared for

Charles Kinsey, the behavioral therapist who was shot by a North Miami police officer while trying to protect his client Arnaldo Rios, speaks with the media outside Aventura Hospital after meeting with Rios on July 28, 2016.
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Charles Kinsey, the behavioral therapist who was shot by a North Miami police officer while trying to protect his client Arnaldo Rios, speaks with the media outside Aventura Hospital after meeting with Rios on July 28, 2016.

In the 911 call to police that led to the shooting of mental healthcare worker Charles Kinsey, a woman described a Hispanic man in the street holding a gun to his head — but warned the dispatcher that the man appeared to be mentally ill and that it might not be a gun.

She also said that a black man was trying to help him and accurately detailed what both Kinsey and his autistic patient, Arnaldo Eliud Rios, were wearing.

“I don’t know if it’s a gun. But he has something the shape of a gun, so just be careful,” the caller said in a 911 recording released late Thursday by Miami-Dade police. “But he’s sitting in the middle of the road.”

Moments later, North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda fired a shot from an assault rifle that struck Kinsey in the leg as he was lying on the ground with his hands in the air. That scene — captured on cellphone video as Rios sat beside his caretaker cross-legged and playing with a toy truck — became the latest in a nationwide string of controversial shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Miami-Dade police released the three-minute, 19-second recording on the same day Kinsey for the first time spoke publicly since leaving the hospital. Kinsey, dressed in a blue button-down shirt and dark slacks, stepped gingerly out of a white Chevy Tahoe, a cane in his right hand supporting a weakened right thigh still recovering from a bullet wound.

First, he thanked everyone for support “all around the world.” Under the advice of his attorney, he did not discuss details of a shooting that gained international attention, but he alluded to simmering tensions between the black community and police. Ambush killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge in the last month have left eight officers dead.

“It’s not about me,” Kinsey said. “It’s not about Arnaldo, either.”

The July 18 confrontation has forced North Miami police and political leaders to take a deeper look at use-of-force policies. It also landed Rios — the man Kinsey was trying to help — in the psychiatric ward of Aventura Hospital.

“He’s doing really well,” Kinsey, 47, said of Rios, whom he visited for the first time in eight days. “He gave me a real big hug. My heart is content. As long as he’s fine, I’m OK.”

According to the 911 call, Kinsey was spotted on the street near Northeast 127th Street and 14th Avenue just before 5 p.m. Severely autistic and with limited speaking ability, the 26-year-old had wandered away from the MacTown group home where he lived about a block away.

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.

When the woman who called 911 saw him, Rios was sitting in the roadway fumbling with his favorite toy truck. The woman, calling from inside her car as she passed the scene, said she was concerned it was a gun.

“There’s this guy in the middle of the road, and he has what appears to be a gun,” she said. “He has it to his head, and there’s a guy there trying to talk him out of it.”

When the operator asks whether it’s a black or a white male holding a gun to his head, the caller says, “It looks like he’s Spanish. A black guy is with him.”

Then the operator asks what color pants the gentleman with the gun is wearing. The woman responds: “Gray, he’s a Spanish guy, young kid. Spanish guy with gray shorts and gray pants. The guy that’s trying to talk him out of it is green shirt and black shorts. But I think the Spanish guy looks like a mentally ill person.”

They banter for a few seconds more, and the woman hangs up after saying the police have arrived. Six minutes later, another call is made to 911 from another caller who said he heard gunshots. The operator says, “Ya, just stay inside the house if you can,” and the call ends.

The 911 call seems in line with what police had previously described — that someone warned them of someone in the street with a gun. But the warning that one of the men in the street might be mentally ill appears to add a new factor to the narrative.

“I don’t think there was a dispute about the 911 call,” Kinsey’s attorney Hilton Napoleon said Thursday. “The issue is going to come when the radio transmission is released. I really do believe justice will be served at the end.”

Those communications between police officers and their dispatcher during the Kinsey shooting have yet to be made public. Sources familiar with the shooting believe it will show that North Miami Cmdr. Emile Hollant warned officers that one of the men was loading a weapon just before Aledda fired.

Aledda has been placed on administrative leave, as is customary with any shooting. Hollant has been suspended without pay for misleading investigators. After the shooting, sources said, Hollant tried to mislead investigators by saying he wasn’t at the scene.

Kinsey was trying to coax Rios back to the home when police arrived. They closed in, took aim from behind street poles and vehicles and ordered the men to lie on the ground with their hands up. Kinsey obeyed the order and can be heard on the video telling police not to shoot because there’s no weapon. Rios continued fumbling with his truck, sitting upright. Aledda, a SWAT team member, fired three times with an assault rifle, one bullet striking Kinsey.

No weapon was found after the shooting. But both men were handcuffed, with Rios remaining handcuffed in the back of a patrol car for hours before they returned him to MacTown, said MacTown President Clinton Bower.

Kinsey spent four days in the hospital recovering, went home and returned briefly to treat an infection. Rios has spent the past week in Aventura Hospital after family members removed him from the MacTown home when he kept wandering out to the shooting scene and yelling about police and blood.

After the shooting, in an unusual move, Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera claimed that Aledda was actually aiming at Rios in an attempt to save Kinsey but missed. Police thought the toy truck was a weapon. The explanation created even more outrage and confusion.

Privately, some North Miami leaders have taken exception to Rivera’s statement and want to know why he didn’t approach the city before making the claim. The city faces probable lawsuits from both Kinsey and Rios’ family.

The ACLU of Florida called for changes in police use-of-force policies in the city, and Rios’ attorney Matthew Dietz sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch urging the department to open an investigation to determine whether his client’s civil rights were violated.

On Wednesday night, North Miami residents and community leaders gathered for the first of several forums that will focus on training for officers dealing with autism and mental health issues, issuing new standards in dealing with the public, and the implementation of body and dash cameras.

On Thursday, Kinsey and Rios spent about 30 minutes together. The behavioral therapist and father of five who does not live in North Miami said he was so saddened when he learned Rios was in the hospital that he decided right away he had to visit. Kinsey said that physically he’s okay, but that he hasn’t been able to sleep.

“I have to play those tapes in my head every night,” he said.

He said when he entered the hospital room, Rios’ mom, Gladys Soto, told her son to look up. Rios was not told beforehand that Kinsey was visiting.

Gladys Soto, the mother of Arnaldo Rios, the autistic patient at the center of a North Miami police shooting that left his caretaker, Charles Kinsey, injured, talks about Soto's happy reunion with Kinsey on Thursday, July 28, 2016.

“He said, ‘Charles,’ then he came up and gave me a big hug,” Kinsey said. “I just wanted to bust out in tears.”

After Kinsey made his way back into an SUV, Soto addressed the media. Dietz, the family attorney, said Rios was in Aventura as they searched for a new facility that could provide him proper care.

She said that when Kinsey showed up, she “told Arnaldo that I have a surprise for you. He loves surprises. When he saw Charles, he said, ‘Oh my God, you have a cane. Are you okay?’ 

“I am very sad — very, very sad. I am very worried,” she said. “He needs a place to live. He needs a safe place.”