Three years later, fragments from a police bullet are still lodged in Charles Kinsey’s leg.
The pain is the physical reminder of the day a North Miami cop shot Kinsey as he lay on the ground, his hands up in the air as he tried to protect his severely autistic client. The emotional trauma is just as acute.
“I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to expect,” Kinsey told the Miami Herald. “I still ask myself ‘Why?’ Why did this have to happen? Why me? I wasn’t doing anything wrong.”
“In the last month, it’s really bothered me. I guess, maybe, because the case is coming up. I’m going in with an open mind and hoping for the best.”
His story is set to take center stage next week as jury selection begins for North Miami Police Officer Jonathan Aledda, 32, who shot and wounded Kinsey in a case that was partially captured on a video and garnered worldwide attention.
It will be the first time a police officer has been tried in Miami-Dade County for an on-duty shooting since 1989. No police officer has been convicted in state court for an on-duty shooting since Miami Officer William Lozano in 1989, and that conviction was overturned on appeal and he was later acquitted.
The Kinsey case unfolded in July 2016, at a time when protests had emerged in many U.S. cities over controversial police shootings. The trial is being closely watched by police and civil rights groups critical of law enforcement tactics — particularly in the black community.
At the time, Kinsey was working at Mactown, a group home in North Miami, with 26-year-old Arnaldo Rios, who had wandered away. Rios sat down in the middle of the street and was holding a silver toy truck, which a neighbor mistook for a possible gun and called 911.
North Miami police arrived and surrounded them in a tense confrontation. Kinsey lay on his back, his hands in the air, begging officers not to shoot. It was captured on a bystander video that went viral.
The standoff culminated in Aledda, a trained SWAT officer, firing three shots at Rios from his M4 carbine without a scope, hitting Kinsey in the thigh. Rios was not struck.
After months of investigation, Miami-Dade prosecutors concluded that Aledda was not justified in shooting from more than 150 feet away. Among the reasons: Other officers had already radioed out that Rios did not have a weapon, and two cops within 20 feet did not fear for their lives.
Aledda is charged with two counts of felony attempted manslaughter, and two counts of culpable negligence. His attorneys have long insisted that he acted in defense of others in what he perceived to be a life-threatening situation.
“He looks forward to his day in court and proving his innocence,” said his attorney, Douglas Hartman.
Aledda and North Miami are being sued by Kinsey and the family of Rios.
Kinsey, 49, now works mowing lawns during the day, and at a center for substance abuse in the evening. He hasn’t spoken to Rios since the days after the shooting.
After a trouble-filled stay at another group home, Rios has spent the past year at a home for the severely disabled in Orlando. There, he has thrived, according to his attorney, Matthew Dietz, even learning to navigate YouTube.
Rios recently celebrated his 29th birthday, getting a cache of toy trucks, not unlike the one that nearly cost him his life.
“I can’t believe that every other officer heard on the radio that it was a toy,” Dietz said. Aledda “aimed, but couldn’t hit a 250-pound man sitting cross-legged on the ground, and he’s a SWAT member? If he was aiming at Arnaldo, he’s the worst shot in the world.”
An earlier version of this story noted the trial was initially set to begin Monday. But an illness to one of the attorneys delayed jury selection. It’s now tentatively scheduled to begin next week.