The North Miami police officer who shot an unarmed black man earlier this week was actually aiming for the autistic man in his care, according to the local police union’s leader.
John Rivera, president of Dade County Police Benevolent Association, said the officers on the scene thought the autistic man’s toy was a gun and that he intended to harm Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist at a nearby assisted-living home.
“Many officers thought the white male had a firearm. Only much later when we’re able to Monday-morning quarterback do we find out that it’s a toy,” Rivera said at a press conference Thursday. “Only much later do we find out that the individual was autistic. The officers on the scene did not know that.”
The cop took aim at the autistic man on Monday because he thought Kinsey’s life was in danger, but missed and accidentally struck the caretaker instead, he said.
A video showing Kinsey, 47, lying on the ground with his hands in the air explaining the situation to the officers sparked immediate backlash after it was released Wednesday. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and many others were outraged that Kinsey was shot even though he was complying with the officer’s demands.
Rivera said whoever recorded the video was much closer to the mental-health care worker than the cops and could therefore hear what he was saying much better.
“Folks, being a police officer has always been difficult and lately it’s been more difficult, more challenging. Sometimes police officers do wrong and we let the system work,” he said. “And sometimes police officers are right and we still crucify them. And sometimes police officers make mistakes because at the end of the day, they’re not computers, they’re not robots, they are God’s creation.”
The North Miami Police Department said the officers were responding to a 911 call from a man who was threatening to commit suicide with a gun.
According to Rivera, the incident should not be viewed through the lens of the heightened tension surrounding law enforcement and African-American communities this summer. Distrust of police officers grew throughout the nation this month after officers shot and killed Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minn.
Rivera argued that the North Miami incident is unlike the other ones because this time the cop thought of Kinsey as a possible victim worthy of protection — not the suspect.
“This really is a simple yet tragic case,” he said. “You had a bunch of officers doing their job, responding, helping the public. And one officer, like many others, thought that Mr. Kinsey’s life was in danger. He tried to do something about it.”
Rivera repeatedly pleaded for the news media and politicians to share the facts without editorializing the event into something it is not. He accused the media of sensationalizing the story.
He also read a statement written by the officer who shot Kinsey: “I took this job to save lives and help people. I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me as something I am not.”
But Hilton Napoleon, the attorney for Kinsey, was not buying Rivera’s version of events.
“I don’t understand if he’s aiming at the autistic kid, how he could miss,” Napoleon said to the Miami Herald. “He had plenty of time to tell my client to move.”
He also questioned why the officers would handcuff Kinsey after he was shot and bleeding from the leg if they were in fact looking out for his safety.
“They handcuffed him after he got shot,” Napoleon said.