Thursday, July 21, 2016

North Miami Police Shoot Black Man Who Said His Hands Were Raised While He Tried to Help an Autistic Patient
By Francisco Alvarado, Michael E. Miller and Mark Berman
July 21 at 5:57 PM

NORTH MIAMI, Fla. — Authorities said Thursday that they were investigating a shooting earlier this week in which a police officer shot a man who had said his hands were empty and raised at the time.

While the shooting was not captured on camera, a recording showing moments before the gunshots depicted a man was lying on his back on the ground, his hands in the air, while another man sits near him cross-legged.

“All he has is a toy truck in his hand,” Charles Kinsey, the man lying on his back, yells at two police officers standing behind telephone poles just a few dozen feet away on Northeast 14th Avenue. “That’s all it is. There is no need for guns.”

Police said they only learned later that Kinsey worked at an assisted care facility and that the man sitting near him was autistic.

After the recording stopped, one of the officers fired three shots, hitting Kinsey at least once in his leg.

“When it hit me, I’m like, I still got my hands in the air,” Kinsey, a black man, said in an interview from his hospital bed with WSVN.

Police have not said why the officer fired, though a police union representative said Thursday that the officer, who has not been identified and who has been placed on administrative leave, was aiming for the autistic man — apparently thinking he was armed — and trying to protect Kinsey.

In moments recorded during the encounter Monday, Kinsey can be heard trying to calm the autistic man sitting next to him. This man, who was also not identified, had apparently wandered away from a group home where Kinsey said he works as a behavioral therapist.

The recording, along with a second video taken after the gunshots and showing Kinsey and the autistic man being handcuffed, was the latest in the seemingly unending stream of violent encounters between police and black men captured on camera and propelled into national headlines.

It arrives as the country is still on edge over issues of race and law enforcement. Recordings of fatal police encounters and their aftermaths in Louisiana and Minnesota earlier this month helped revive protests over how law enforcement uses deadly force, while the deadly shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge have spurred further fears among officers over the threats they face on the job.

The video spread wildly online on Wednesday night and Thursday, and state officials said they had launched an investigation. But key questions remaining unanswered, including whether the officer had actually been aiming at the autistic man still sitting up in the street.

According to Kinsey, the officer who fired the shots seemed confused by what happened. “‘Sir, why did you shoot me?'” Kinsey recalled asking the officer. “He said, ‘I don’t know.'”

Police in North Miami, a city of 62,000 people between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, have offered relatively few details about the encounter. Gary Eugene, the city’s police chief, who was appointed to the position just a month before the shooting, said his department was dedicated to an open probe.

“I realize there are many questions about what happened Monday night,” Eugene said during a news conference Thursday. “We all have questions. … I assure you, we’ll get all the answers.”

Eugene said he had asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to investigate the shooting, and a spokeswoman for that agency confirmed Thursday morning that it had launched an investigation.

“Bringing in an outside agency shows our commitment to transparency and objectivity in a very sensitive matter,” Eugene said.

Eugene and the North Miami police did not release the name of the officer involved, referring questions instead to the FDLE, which said it would also not name the officer.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, said in a statement that her office will carry out its own investigation when the FDLE finishes its probe and delivers its findings. At that point, she said her office “will conduct our own investigation and review all of the evidence” to see if the shooting was a criminal act.

The North Miami police have offered only a fleeting account of what occurred Monday. Eugene said that police received a 911 call shortly after 5 p.m. on Monday about “a male with a gun threatening to commit suicide.” He also said that there were other reports from witnesses about a man with a gun.

“Our officers responded to the scene with that threat in mind,” Eugene said. But he added: “I want to make it clear: There was no gun recovered.”

In a statement on Tuesday, the department had said that the officers who responded “attempted to negotiate with two men on the scene” and that the officers later learned that one of the men was autistic and the other worked at an assisted living facility.

“At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon,” the statement said.

[In Baton Rouge, 10 minutes of terror leave three officers dead and three more wounded]

Kinsey, speaking to the local television station, said he was even more stunned by what happened afterward, when police handcuffed him and left him bleeding on the pavement for “about 20 minutes.”

His attorney, who obtained the video and shared it with The Post, sharply criticized the police for their actions.

“There is no reason to fire your weapon at a man who has his hands up and is trying to help,” Hilton Napoleon said in a telephone interview.

Napoleon called for the department to fire the officer.

During a news conference later on Thursday, John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association, called the shooting an accident.

“Sometimes police officers make mistakes,” Rivera said. “They are not computers. They are not robots. They are God’s creation.”

So far this year, police officers have fatally shot 44 people while responding to calls regarding a person behaving erratically, according to a Washington Post database tracking deadly police shootings. Officers have also shot and killed 35 unarmed people, the database shows.

“Thankfully, Mr. Kinsey is alive and not more gravely injured—but had the officer’s weapon been pointed just a few degrees differently, this senseless incident could have been a much greater tragedy,” Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a statement. “This is the latest in what seems like an endless litany of police shootings of individuals who should not have been shot.”

Rivera said the officer was trying to shoot the autistic man because police believed he had a gun.

“Fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, [the officer] discharged his firearm,” Rivera said. “In trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life, he missed and accidentally struck Mr. Kinsey.”

Rivera said that “the officers on the scene did not know” that the autistic man had a toy, saying that it only emerged later. But in the video, Kinsey can be heard yelling about the toy, and one witness said he tried to tell an officer that the autistic man was carrying a toy.

Thomas Matthews, the 73-year-old property manager of a corner food store on the street where Kinsey was shot, said he watched the incident unfold through a pair of binoculars.

Matthews said Kinsey and the autistic man often stop by his store to buy candy and juices. “They are always laughing and talking,” Matthews said. He said he saw a female officer with her gun drawn, following behind a male officer who pulled a rifle out of his car, and tried to alert her.

“With the binoculars I could see the toy truck in the autistic kid’s hand,” Matthews said Thursday. “I tried to tell the female officer, but she barked at me to get back.”

Matthews said he then saw the male officer raise the rifle and shoot three times.

“The whole thing could have been avoided,” he said. “I was trying to tell them it was a toy. The police are so scared and hyped with all these killings, I guess [the officer] panicked.”

The encounter Monday came during what has been a remarkably fraught, violent period. Police across the country remain on alert, with many patrolling in pairs, after a gunman in Baton Rouge ambushed and killed three officers on Sunday, while 10 days earlier, another gunman had also ambushed and killed five officers in Dallas.

At the same time, police remain under intense scrutiny after the fatal shootings of two black men earlier this month. In the span of two days, the Baton Rouge police fatally shot Alton Sterling outside a store there and Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer during a traffic stop outside St. Paul, Minn.

“He was lying on the ground, with his hands up, freezing, being rational, and he was still shot,” Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.), who represents part of Miami-Dade County, said at the news conference Thursday.

“This is not supposed to be happening in North Miami,” she said. “North Miami is a city where the police officers and the community gel. So many of our police officers come from the community, live in the community, work with the community.”

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Thursday that the Justice Department was aware of the North Miami shooting, but she said federal officials do not know enough yet to know if they will review it.

“I’m aware of the incident, and we’re working with our partners in the area to gather more information about it,” Lynch said during a news conference Thursday. “We’re trying to gather all the facts about it so we can determine, essentially, how that matter will be handled or reviewed.”

Rivera also read a statement he said was written by the officer who shot Kinsey.

“I took this job to save lives and help people,” the statement said. “I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me into something I am not.”

Before the recording began Monday, the young autistic man had apparently wandered away from a North Miami assisted living facility.

A manager at the facility told WSVN that the man was “about 23 years old, he’s autistic, he’s nonverbal [and] he’s relatively low-functioning.”

The autistic man sat on the ground, blocking traffic, while he played with a small white toy truck, Napoleon told The Post.

Kinsey, an employee at the facility, went to retrieve him. Around the same time, police say, is when someone in the area called 911 and reported seeing a man with a gun threatening to commit suicide.

According to Napoleon, Kinsey was trying to persuade the autistic man to get out of the street when police approached with their rifles raised.

With the Sterling and Castile shootings on his mind, Kinsey lay down on the ground and put his hands in the air.

“I was really more worried about him than myself,” Kinsey told WSVN, referring to the autistic man.

Two bystander videos capture snippets of what happened next.

A video from before the shooting — obtained by Napoleon and shared with The Post — begins with bystanders saying “Look, look, look” in Spanish.

“Mira, mira, mira,” a man can be heard saying, training his cellphone camera on Kinsey, who is on the ground with his hands up and trying to get the autistic man to do the same.

“Lay down on your stomach,” Kinsey tells the young man.

“Shut up,” the autistic man shouts. “Shut up, you idiot.”

Kinsey turns his attention to the police.

“Can I get up now?” he asks. “Can I get up?”

As police aim their assault rifles at the men in the street, Kinsey tries to explain to them that they pose no threat.

“All he has is a toy truck in his hand. A toy truck,” Kinsey can be heard saying in the video. “I am a behavioral therapist at a group home.

“That’s all it is,” he says, referring to the toy truck. “That’s all it is. There is no need for guns.”

“Let me see your hands,” a cop can be heard shouting at the autistic man. “Get on the ground. Get on the ground.”

The autistic man then begins to make noises, apparently playing with his toy.

“Rinaldo, please be still,” Kinsey tells his patient. “Sit down, Rinaldo. Lay on your stomach.”

The video then cuts out, leaving a critical gap in the footage.

Shortly after and off camera, one of the officers fired his weapon three times.

One of the bullets struck Kinsey near his right knee, exiting his upper thigh.

“My life flashed in front of me,” he told WSVN, adding that his first thought was of his family, and his second was confusion over what had happened.

A second video captures the moments after the shooting, as officers placed the injured Kinsey and the autistic man into handcuffs.

“He was like, ‘Please don’t shoot me,'” a bystander can be heard saying on the video. “Why they shot the black boy and not the fat boy?”

“Because the things with the blacks,” another man says.

“I don’t know who’s guilty,” adds what sounds like a woman’s voice.

It was the officers’ reaction after the shooting that upset Kinsey and Napoleon the most, they said.

“They flipped me over, and I’m face-down in the ground, with cuffs on, waiting on the rescue squad to come,” Kinsey told WSVN. “I’d say about 20, about 20 minutes it took the rescue squad to get there. And I was like, bleeding — I mean bleeding, and I was like, ‘Wow.'”

“Right now, I am just grateful that he is alive and he is able to tell his story,” his wife, Joyce, told the TV station.

Kinsey was “dumbfounded” by the shooting, Napoleon said.

“He should recover physically, but he is really kind of mentally distraught,” the attorney added. “As you can see in the video, he did everything he thought he had to do and then some … and still got shot.”

Napoleon said his client was on the ground with his hands up, as in the video, when shot.

“Nobody got up or approached” the officers, the attorney said, adding that the fact that the officer fired three times shows it was “not an accident.”

“The straw that really breaks the camel’s back, that makes it even more frustrating, is that after my client was shot, they handcuffed him and left him on the hot Miami summer pavement for 20 minutes while fire-rescue came and while he was bleeding out,” Napoleon said. “But for the grace of God he wouldn’t be with us.”

Napoleon said the “toy truck does not come close to looking like a gun,” adding that the officers “had ample opportunity” to figure that out.

He said that Kinsey, a father of five, is involved in community efforts to keep youths out of trouble and in school.

“He’s just a solid guy,” he said of his client, who remains hospitalized. “It takes a special individual to work with people with special needs, as this young man did. That shows his character.”

Napoleon said he was already in negotiations with the city of North Miami regarding a possible settlement. A city spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

“I have confidence that the city is going to negotiate in good faith and try to resolve this issue,” he said. “At a minimum, we would request that they terminate the officer immediately based on what’s in the video.”

Berman and Miller reported from Washington. Steven Rich in Washington contributed to this report.

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Michael E. Miller is a foreign affairs reporter for The Washington Post. He writes for the Morning Mix news blog.  Follow @MikeMillerDC
Mark Berman covers national news for The Washington Post and anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and stories from around the country.  Follow @markberman

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