Second trial begins for North Miami cop who fired at autistic man holding a toy truck
For the second time, a jury was sworn in to hear the case against a North Miami police officer who shot at a severely autistic man holding a silver toy truck in the middle of a street but instead hit his therapist, an unarmed black man.
The July 2016 shooting, caught on video amid a string of controversial police shootings of black men nationwide, generated widespread public criticism of the North Miami police response and of sharpshooter Jonathon Aledda in particular. But a jury in March was not persuaded Aledda did anything wrong, failing to reach a verdict although five of six jurors wanted to acquit him.
So with a new set of jurors in place Thursday, prosecutors once again laid out the dramatic details of the encounter, which resulted in two counts of felony attempted manslaughter and one count of misdemeanor culpable negligence against the officer.
They argued that Aledda should have known that Arnaldo Rios Soto, sitting in the middle of a North Miami street, was holding a toy, not a weapon. That day, police had been called to the scene after a motorist called 911 to report a man holding a possible gun to his head in the street.
Officers surrounded Rios, then 26, who had slipped away from a nearby group home. His mental health therapist, Charles Kinsey, begged police officers to not shoot, and loudly yelled that neither man was armed.
Still, Aledda fired three shots from more than 50 yards away, even though another officer had already radioed that the shiny object did not appear to be a weapon. “The defendant attempted to execute Arnaldo Rios Soto,” prosecutor Reid Rubin told jurors during opening statements.
One bullet pierced Kinsey’s thigh. Rios was unhurt. Rubin showed jurors a photo of Kinsey’s blood on the pavement. “That would have been Arnaldo’s brains or blood all over the street,” the prosecutor said.
Defense lawyers say Aledda, in a chaotic scene beset by faulty police radios, truly believed Rios was holding Kinsey hostage and was about to kill him.
Attorney Douglas Hartman told jurors that Rios was holding the toy “like it was a gun.”
“He was justified in firing those shots,” Hartman said Thursday.
Aledda, at his first trial, took the stand. “At that point, I had to fire my shot. I thought the black male was going to get executed,” Aledda told jurors, adding: “My heart was pounding out of my chest. I’ve never been in the position to take a life to save another.”
Aledda’s case came amid growing national calls for more scrutiny of police tactics. A portion of the confrontation — Kinsey on the ground, his hands in the air, begging for cops to not shoot — was captured on bystander cellphone video that went viral.
Aledda’s first trial in March ended in a hung jury — five of six of jurors wanted to acquit Aledda outright. He was acquitted of one misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence.
The shooting also roiled North Miami, leading to the ousting of the city’s police chief and the firing of the commander on the scene. Rios’ family and Kinsey are also suing the city of North Miami.