Arnaldo Rios, a severely autistic 27-year-old with an IQ of 40, sat handcuffed on the ground for 20 minutes after a police officer shot his unarmed caretaker. Still in handcuffs, Rios was placed in the back of a patrol car for about two more hours.
Rios’ caretaker was shot as he lay on his back with his arms raised while his patient sat beside him in the middle of the road playing with a shiny toy truck. The officer said he thought the toy was a gun and that he was aiming at Rios — but missed.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court Monday, Rios’ family claims a bystander near the police vehicle where Rios was held heard “animalistic sounds and screeching noises” coming from inside.
Then, according to the lawsuit, Rios, whose communication skills are mainly limited to saying “yes,” echoing what others say and repeating quotes from from his favorite movies, was taken to the North Miami police station. There, he sat with his hands handcuffed behind his back for another four minutes as an officer interrogated him.
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His family said police wouldn’t allow anyone to accompany Rios during the interview. A video obtained by the Miami Herald shows Rios responding to questions in a high-pitched voice that family members say he only uses when stressed. Clearly confused, Rios answered “yes” to almost every question.
At one point he stood, turned and indicated to the officer he wanted the handcuffs removed from his wrists. Finally, the officer, getting nowhere, released Rios.
On Monday, almost a full year after video of the shooting captured on cellphone camera became a flashpoint and made international headlines, Rios and his family filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of North Miami and the five police officers who interacted with the autistic man that July 2016 afternoon and evening.
The lawsuit claims that police intentionally inflicted pain and suffering on Rios and that he was was falsely imprisoned. It also argues that Rios was battered and assaulted, that his movement was limited and that the police conspired to imprison and falsely arrest Rios.
Among the arguments in the lawsuit is that 85 seconds after an officer on a police radio said “the object appeared to be a toy” and 35 seconds after it was confirmed visually, “Officer Aledda balanced his Colt M4 carbine semi-automatic rifle on the hood of a vehicle aimed at Arnaldo Rios-Soto intending to kill him and shot three rounds from his rifle.”
Rios family attorney Matthew Dietz said his client was “treated like an animal. They kept him in the back of a car like a dog. They had no legal right to hold him.”
John Rivera, president of the union representing the five officers, called the lawsuit “flippant” and laid the blame squarely on state prosecutors who decided to press charges against the officer who shot Kinsey.
“It’s an artful and flippant claim,” said Rivera, president of Miami-Dade’s Police Benevolent Association. “Sadly, the incompetence and cowardliness of the state attorney’s office creates these preposterous snowball effects.”
On July 18, 2016, Rios grabbed his silver toy truck and bolted from a North Miami home that treats the mentally disabled called MACtown. Then he sat down in the middle of the roadway. Behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey, Rios’s caretaker, took off after him.
But a woman who passed by in a car just as Rios sat down set off a chain of events that would lead to Kinsey being shot, a national outcry, Rios being transferred to a facility in North Florida and state prosecutors charging the North Miami police officer who shot Kinsey with attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence.
The woman, who was never been named, called 911 saying she wasn’t certain, but it appeared that a mentally ill man had a gun and was threatening to kill himself. That message — minus the woman’s observation about Rios’ mental condition — was relayed to North Miami police who flooded the area. As officers surrounded Rios and Kinsey, Aledda, a SWAT member steadied his rifle on the hood of a police car 152 feet away and took aim.
Obeying police instructions, Kinsey, a black man wearing a bright yellow shirt and shorts, laid down on his back with his arms raised toward the sky. He begged police not to shoot as he tried to calm Rios. Then, after an officer relayed over the radio that Rios may have had a toy, Aledda fired off three rounds. It is unclear if Aledda heard the message.
One of those rounds struck Kinsey in the leg. And though Aledda claimed to be aiming at Rios, the officer stopped shooting after hitting Kinsey. Both men were handcuffed and held until an ambulance arrived for Kinsey and Rios was placed in the back of a patrol car.
The shooting came at a time of increased tension around the nation after several videos surfaced of unarmed black men being shot by police. The shootings led to protests and in some cases rioting. In the days that followed the Rios shooting, Aledda through his union, said the sharp-shooter was aiming at the autistic man, not his caretaker, but missed.
In April, state prosecutors charged Aledda with attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence. It was the first time in the past 28 years the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office had charged a police officer.
The Rios lawsuit claims that after the shooting and after determining that Kinsey and Rios didn’t have a weapon, police were told to take them into custody and they remained at gunpoint. Officer [Kevin] Warren placed Arnaldo Rios-Soto on the ground, handcuffed Arnaldo Rios-Soto, frisked and searched his entire body and arrested him,” the lawsuit claims.
Besides Aledda and Warren, North Miami police officers Angel Requejado, Kevin Crespo and Detective Michael Gaudio, who interviewed Rios at the police station, were named in the lawsuit. The lawsuit also claims that MACtown President Clinton Bower was denied a chance to speak with Rios while he was in the patrol car and when he was at the police station.
It says that Detective Gaudio told Bower that Rios was being held in protective custody. The video of Gaudio’s interrogation of Rios shows the detective introducing himself to Rios in an interview room. Then the detective spends four minutes asking questions that almost always get a “yes” response.
When Gaudio asked Rios if he felt bad, what his name is and how old he is, the autistic man replies, “yes.” When the officer asked if he knows Mr. Bower or if he remembers what happend, Rios replies, “yes.”
When Gaudio asked Rios if he wanted to hurt Kinsey, his reponse was “yes.” When the officer asked him what he had in his hand while he was on the road, Rio says “yes.” At one point Gaudio asked Rios if the truck was shiny, black, red or blue. Rios’s response: “Shiny. Black. Red. Blue.”
And finally before releasing him, Gaudio posed this question to Rios: Did you want to hurt anyone tonight? To which Rios responded: “Yes.”
Rios, who Dietz said was too stressed out after the shooting to remain at MACtown, is now being treated in North Florida at one of the few facilities in the state that deals with severely autistic patients. Kinsey has recovered from his gunshot wound, but no longer practices patient care. He still lives in South Florida but began his own business.