For the second time, jurors are deciding whether a North Miami police officer broke the law when he fired his rifle three times at an autistic man holding a silver toy tanker truck, missing him but wounding the man’s unarmed caretaker lying on the ground with his hands thrust in the air in surrender.
A Miami-Dade jury on Monday evening began deliberating in the case of Officer Jonathon Aledda, who is accused of attempted manslaughter for the shooting that drew national outrage amid heightened criticism of police tactics.
Jurors got the case hours after Aledda took the stand to say he believed that Arnaldo Rios Soto, sitting in the middle of a North Miami intersection, was wielding a pistol and was on the verge of shooting Charles Kinsey.
“I believed it was a hostage situation,” Aledda, 33, testified. “It appeared he was screaming for mercy or for help or something. In my mind, the white male had a gun.”
Taking cover behind a car about 50 yards away, Aledda fired three shots, missing Soto but hitting Kinsey in the thigh.
He has long insisted that he was acting in defense of Kinsey and other officers on the scene. Still, the shooting of an unarmed black man with his hands in the air sparked disbelief because part of the dramatic confrontation was captured on video that went viral. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office charged Aledda nearly nine months later.
Kinsey is suing North Miami.
Aledda’s first trial was declared a mistrial in March after jurors deadlocked on three of four charges. He was acquitted of a fourth, a misdemeanor count of culpable negligence. The police officer is facing two charges of felony attempted manslaughter and one count of misdemeanor culpable negligence.
Five of six jurors in the first trial wanted to acquit Aledda, who is the first police officer in Miami-Dade to be charged with an on-duty shooting since 1989.
The shooting unfolded on a blazing hot day in July 2016, when the 27-year-old Rios ran away from a North Miami group home where he lived. In his hand was the silver truck, one of his favorite toys.
A motorist passing by called 911, reporting a man with a possible gun in his hand, pointing to his own head. After Rios plopped down in the middle of a busy North Miami street, Kinsey tried coaxing him back to the group home.
North Miami officers rushed to the scene and surrounded the two men.
Kinsey threw his hands in the air, begging the officers to not fire. They instructed him to lie on the ground. In the brief standoff, Rios began screaming at Kinsey to “shut up” — mimicking a cartoon he had often watched.
A North Miami commander on the scene mistakenly radioed that it appeared Rios was “reloading” a weapon.
But during trial, prosecutors sought to prove that Rios was no longer a threat. Two officers, Kevin Crespo and Alens Bernadeau, the officers closest to the men in the intersection, testified that they had concluded the silver object was no weapon. Importantly for the state, Bernadeau even radioed that the object was a toy.
Officer Kevin Warren, who was right next to Aledda taking cover behind the same car about 50 yards away, told jurors that he could hear the radio transmissions. Although unsure of what the object was, Warren said he never considered firing his pistol.
Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Horn told jurors that Aledda was the only cop who considered firing. “He rushed to judgment and he chose death,” Horn told jurors during closing arguments.
On Monday, Aledda repeated his story from the first trial, saying he never heard the radio transmission that the object might be a toy. Defense lawyer Douglas Hartman said North Miami’s radios were faulty, and not always audible during the frantic situation.
“Nobody heard everything that was dispatched that day,” Hartman said.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Reid Rubin grilled Aledda on why he fired. The exchange turned snippy as Aledda refused to admit his intent was to kill Rios.
“I was more worried about the black male being executed before my face,” Aledda said.
Rubin pressed: “You jumped the gun, didn’t you?”
“When someone’s life is at risk, I can’t wait,” Aledda said. “I believed it was a gun.”
“Every single thing you thought that day was wrong,” Rubin said.
Said Aledda: “I found that out after the fact, sir.”