A jury on Monday night convicted a North Miami police officer of a misdemeanor for firing his rifle three times at an autistic man holding a silver toy truck, but acquitted him of two more serious felony counts of attempted manslaughter.
Jurors deliberated more than three hours in the case of Officer Jonathon Aledda, who admitted he mistook the shiny object for a weapon in a shooting that drew national outrage amid heightened criticism of police tactics. His bullets missed the autistic man but struck the man’s therapist, who was lying on the ground with his hands in the air.
Aledda was convicted of a misdemeanor count of culpable negligence, which carries a penalty of up to one year behind bars. He’ll be sentenced in the coming weeks, but because the charge is minor, he may still be eligible to remain a police officer.
The case was being closely watched because he was the first police officer in Miami-Dade County to be charged with an on-duty shooting since 1989.
The jury’s foreperson, Stacy Sarna, said the jury had a spirited debate but concluded that under “our reading of the law” he was not guilty of the attempted manslaughter counts. However, the misdemeanor count was warranted because Aledda didn’t “take into account” the safety of the community when he fired his weapon, she said.
It was Aledda’s second trial in three months. His first trial in March was declared a mistrial after jurors deadlocked on three of four charges. He was acquitted of a fourth, a misdemeanor count of culpable negligence. Five of six jurors in the first trial wanted to acquit Aledda.
Monday’s verdict was handed down hours after Aledda took the witness 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 the therapist, Charles Kinsey, on a sweltering July day in 2016.
“I believed it was a hostage situation,” Aledda 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.
Sarna, the jury foreperson, said jurors didn’t necessarily believe everything Aledda said.
“What he was saying was very carefully considered. He was very calculated and practiced,” she said.
“We think the verdict as delivered was fair,” Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Horn said on Monday night.
Douglas Hartman, Aledda’s defense lawyer, said the team was “extremely disappointed.”
“We thought he should have never been charged to begin with,” Hartman said.
The shooting unfolded 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.
Horn told jurors that Aledda was the only cop who considered firing. “He rushed to judgment and he chose death,” Horn said Monday 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 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.
Kinsey and Rios’ family are suing North Miami., which lawyers say mishandled the whole scene. Jurors too were bothered by the botched radio transmissions and the dispatchers who failed to relay enough information to officers on the scene.
“What troubled us the most was the North Miami police department,” said Sarna.