Jurors must now decide: Was Jonathon Aledda a reckless gung-ho cop trying to be a hero — or an officer valiantly trying to save a hostage?
A six-person jury began deliberating Thursday evening whether the North Miami police officer broke the law when he fired three times at a severely autistic man holding a silver toy truck while sitting in a roadway.
Aledda is accused of attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence for shooting at 26-year-old Arnaldo Rios and wounding the autistic man’s caretaker, Charles Kinsey, who was lying on the ground with his hands in the air begging police not to shoot.
“With a lot of power and authority also comes a lot of responsibility. The shots Jonathon Aledda fired were not a misfire,” Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Horn told jurors on Thursday during closing arguments. “Each shot was intentional while he was trying to kill Arnaldo Rios Soto. Each shot was unnecessary and unreasonable.”
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Defense lawyer Douglas Hartman said Aledda mistakenly believed that Rios was holding Kinsey hostage. He blamed faulty radios and poor supervision by North Miami police for the miscommunication that led to the shooting.
“He had a life and death situation. He thought without question that Mr. Kinsey was going to die, be shot and murdered,” Hartman said.
The five-man, one-woman jury deliberated less than one hour before electing to go home for the night. The jury will return Friday morning to deliberate again.
The July 2016 shooting roiled North Miami and drew international headlines because the dramatic scene was partially captured on widely circulated bystander video. The shooting of an unarmed black man with his hands in the air came during a period of intense national scrutiny of law-enforcement tactics.
Aledda was the first police officer charged with an on-duty shooting by Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who assumed the position in 1994.
The last cop in Miami-Dade convicted of an on-duty shooting was Miami Officer William Lozano. A jury in 1989 convicted him of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a motoryclist in Overtown; the conviction was later overturned, and the state lost the second trial.
In Aledda’s case, prosecutors said he was not justified in shooting at Rios, who had escaped from his nearby group home in North Miami, then sat down in a roadway playing with the shiny toy. A motorist called 911, saying the man might have a gun and be suicidal.
Kinsey, his caretaker, was trying to coax him back into the home when two North Miami police officers, wielding rifles, surrounded the two. Kinsey lay on the ground and loudly begged the officers to stand down.
The two officers concluded the toy truck was not a weapon. One of them, Alens Bernadeau, radioed that he had visually confirmed the object was not a gun.
As the two officers were about to step out to Rios and Kinsey, gunfire rang out.
“Bam! Bam! Bam!” Horn bellowed, turning to Aledda. “This was seconds from being over, but for the fact he decided he wanted to try to be a hero.”
Aledda, a trained SWAT officer, fired as he was taking cover about 50 yards away.
During the trial, Aledda took the witness stand to say he was actually trying to save Kinsey. He claimed he never heard the radio transmissions — and saw Rios turn the shiny object toward Kinsey just before the shots rang out. No other witnesses said the same thing, including Kinsey, who returned to the stand briefly to answer if Rios pointed the toy truck at him.
“No sir. He did not,” Kinsey said.
Still, Aledda’s lawyers said, the officer firmly believed the shiny object was a gun. Hartman picked up the toy tanker truck.
“Wouldn’t a reasonable person think this looks like a gun?” Hartman asked the jury. “It’s got a barrel shape, just like the barrel of a gun.”