North Miami cop charged in shooting of autistic man’s unarmed therapist

A North Miami police officer will face criminal charges for shooting the unarmed caretaker of an autistic man last summer — one of a string of questionable police shootings of black men nationwide that sparked protests.

Officer Jonathan Aledda was arrested and charged Wednesday with a felony count of attempted manslaughter, and a misdemeanor charge of culpable negligence.

The arrest came nine months after Aledda shot and wounded Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist who was lying on his back on the ground, his hands up in the air, begging officers not to shoot — a confrontation partly captured on video from a bystander.

The arrest marks the first time prosecutors under Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle have charged an officer for an on-duty shooting.

The Kinsey case, which came amid protests in many cities over controversial police shootings, was being closely watched.

On July 18, 2016, North Miami officers were summoned to the scene by a 911 caller who reported what appeared to be a disturbed man armed with a handgun.

It was actually a silver toy truck. The man was 26-year-old Arnaldo Rios, a severely autistic man who had wandered away from a group home and sat down in the middle of the street. Kinsey was trying to coax him back to the facility when police arrived.

The standoff culminated in Aledda, a trained SWAT officer, firing three shots from his M4 carbine without a scope, hitting Kinsey in the thigh. Kinsey survived and has since sued North Miami over the officer’s use of force.

After the shooting, police union president John Rivera defended Aledda, saying the officer was actually firing at Rios, the autistic man, whom the officer believed was armed and a danger to Kinsey.

But prosecutors – after months of internal discussions and reviews of witness statements, radio transmissions and other evidence – determined that the use of force was not legal and Rios was not a threat.

Police radio transmissions were conflicting, with one commander early on saying Rios appeared to be reloading. That commander later left to fetch binoculars and did not witness the shooting.

Prosecutors learned that at least two other officers, taking cover and only about 20 feet from Rios and Kinsey, concluded the silver object may have indeed have been a toy. They were about to walk over to put handcuffs on Rios when the shots rang out.

Aledda was 150 feet away when he fired.

The sound of the gunshots surprised all the other officers on the scene, whom later told investigators they did not feel threatened. After the shots, Aledda was uncertain enough about his target that he asked an officer next to him whether the man did indeed have a gun.

The use of force by police has been an ongoing national debate in recent years in light of a slew of fatal officer shootings, particularly of unarmed black men.

Fernandez-Rundle, in office since 1993, has received criticism over the years for not having charged any police officers, in a state where laws afford cops wide latitude to use deadly force, including the ability to shoot at fleeing felons.

The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, under Janet Reno, was the last office to get a conviction of a police officer for a shooting. A jury in 1989 convicted Miami Officer William Lozano of manslaughter for the shooting death of unarmed black man on a motorcycle – but the conviction was overturned, and a second jury acquitted him.

A Palm Beach deputy was charged with shooting a fleeing man in 1993, and acquitted. After that, no Florida police officer had been arrested for an on-duty shooting until Broward Deputy Peter Peraza was arrested in December 2015 for the killing of a man who was walking down the street with BB-rifle.

Again, there was no conviction – a judge later dismissed the case after ruling Peraza acted in self-defense.

Prosecutors may have an easier chance getting a conviction in the case of Palm Beach Gardens Detective Nouman Raja, who was arrested last year for manslaughter and attempted murder after shooting musician Corey Jones along the side of Interstate 95.

The key evidence: Audio recordings that dispute Raja's version of his encounter with Jones in October 2015.