Fred Grimm

Police chief confronts feuds, lies, incompetence and a shooting gone wrong

It’s now obvious that on the day Charles Kinsey was shot by police in North Miami, one person had acted in a prudent and professional manner.

That would be Charles Kinsey.

The behavioral therapist, lying flat on his back on the street with his arms raised in surrender, had tried his damnedest to convince police that the severely autistic man seated on the curb next to him was harmless. “Sir,” he yelled to the gaggle of twitchy police officers who had responded to a 911 report of a possibly suicidal person like a terrorist threat. “There’s no need for firearms.”

As he lay supine on the asphalt, he cautioned police that his patient — a walkaway from a nearby group home — was not holding a weapon. “All he has is a toy truck.”

But it was Kinsey’s bad luck on July 18 to have encountered a police agency of startling dysfunction.

In a taped interview with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, North Miami Police Chief Gary Eugene described the ensuing exchange on the police radio. He said a police sergeant “got on the air and said, ‘I have a visual; it is a toy. QRX.’ ” Chief Eugene explained that QRX, in police lingo, means “stand down, do not do anything.”

Except that was followed by a startling pronouncement. “Shots fired.”

Another officer responded, “Hold fire! Hold fire! It is a toy!” Too late. Three shots had been fired. Two bullets flew off into oblivion. One struck Charles Kinsey in the leg.

“Oh Lord,” the chief said as he recounted the departmental ineptitude exposed by the shooting. Chief Eugene, who had been in his new post just six days when Kinsey was wounded, described a 125-officer department that was crippled by incompetence, a lack of training, mendacity and envy. He said the department’s internal feuds were so poisonous that he worried “someone would get shot and call for a backup and [one of his fellow officers] would say, ‘I’m not going.’ 

On the taped interview, first reported this week by WTVJ Channel 6 and the Miami New Times, Eugene suggested that when Police Commander Emile Hollant was suspended in connection with the incident (initially without pay while the actual shooter, Officer Jonathan Aledda, was suspended with pay), it had less to do with Hollant’s culpability than a “personal vendetta” harbored by an assistant chief.

Just two months before the shooting, the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation had suspended North Miami PD’s accreditation until the department could sort out a number of bureaucratic issues. Chief Eugene, who had served 26 years with the city of Miami police before joining North Miami, indicated that the July shooting exposed much more profound problems. “The scene was a mess, to be honest with you. People were walking all over the place.”

The afternoon had begun when an assistant sent the chief to the wrong address. When Eugene finally arrived, “Nobody came to tell me anything. Somebody should have given me the minimum respect to come to me and tell me what’s going on.”

The chief said the initial reports he received from his underlings didn’t match the video and audio tapes that turned up later. Instead, he found himself trying to sort out competing versions of the incident. “People were trying to mislead me into taking action, but they were like enemies of each other. They don’t like each other.”

And then there was the statement from John Rivera, president of the local Police Benevolent Association, who explained, unconvincingly, that “in fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, the officer discharged his firearm trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life and he missed.” In this version, the police officer was actually shooting at the 23-year-old autism patient.

Except after Kinsey was hit by the errant bullet, the cops turned the bleeding man — the very fellow they were supposedly trying to save — face down in the dirt and handcuffed him. Perhaps that was just a precaution until they could figure out how they were going to spin the story.

But even the Blue Lives Matter website, a fervent defender of police actions, could not rationalize the North Miami shooting; “Any competent shooter should have been able to make that shot with a rifle, and there was little explanation for why Kinsey would be hit in the leg. ... For the officer to miss three rounds and be so far off that he fired them into Kinsey’s leg, the officer must be a horrible shot.”

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office cleared Hollant of any wrongdoing in August (though he inexplicably remains suspended, albeit now with pay). The shooting investigation, however, remains unresolved.

One thing’s for sure. “I’ve got a problem with training my staff,” Chief Eugene told the FDLE.

Oh, Lord. No kidding.