New details are emerging in the investigation of a police-involved shooting in North Miami that wounded an unarmed therapist trying to care for a man with autism.
Cellphone video taken moments before the shooting shows Charles Kinsey, who is black, holding both hands high in the air as another man sits on the ground next to him. The officers had received a call of an armed, suicidal man who they believed to be the man next to Kinsey. Instead of a gun, however, he was armed only with a toy truck.
“The movement of the white individual looked like he was getting ready to discharge a firearm into Mr. Kinsey,” said John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association, according to Miami television station WSVN. “The officer discharged, trying to strike and stop the white male, and unfortunately, he missed.”
That officer, who has only been identified as a 30-year-old Hispanic man who has been with the department for four years, has been placed on administrative leave. He could face criminal charges depending on the findings of the investigation.
“I took this job to save lives and help people,” said the officer in a statement released by the union. “I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me as something I’m not.”
Disturbing cellphone video
The video shows Kinsey lying in the street, holding his hands in the air.
“All he has is a toy truck,” the man shouts. “I am a behavior therapist at a group home.”
Charles Kinsey said the footage, released by his attorney, shows the moment Monday when he tried to convince North Miami police not to harm his patient, a 23-year-old with autism who was sitting on the ground beside him.
“I was more worried about him than myself,” Kinsey told WSVN in Miami.
“As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not gonna shoot me, that’s what I’m thinking,” Kinsey said. “Wow, was I wrong.”
Now Kinsey is hospitalized with a gunshot wound.
North Miami police said an officer opened fire after attempting to negotiate. Kinsey and his attorney said that explanation doesn’t add up. State authorities say they’re investigating.
Police: Caller reported armed man
A 911 call about an armed man threatening suicide drew officers to the scene just after 5 p.m. Monday, North Miami police Chief Gary Eugene told reporters.
“Our officers responded to the scene with that threat in mind. We had witness statements that there was a gun. We had a 911 call with that same information,” Eugene said Thursday. “However, I want to make it clear, there was no gun recovered.”
Kinsey told WSVN that his patient was holding a toy truck, not a firearm. He said he tried to explain the situation to officers, then asked his patient to be still and lie down.
Cell phone video released by Kinsey’s attorney shows part of that exchange.
“Please be still … get down … lay on your stomach,” Kinsey says in the video.
The man beside him rocks back and forth.
Another video released by the attorney shows a different perspective of the scene. In that video, Kinsey is lying in the road, on his stomach and handcuffed.
So far, attorney Hilton Napoleon II said, video of the shooting itself hasn’t surfaced.
State takes over investigation
Reports of the North Miami shooting drew swift reactions on social media, with posts criticizing the officer who opened fire.
Kinsey’s shooting comes after a pair of officer-involved shootings led to the death of two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, kicking off a period of national unrest and putting the spotlight again on police use of force, particularly against black men.
Eight law enforcement officers have since been killed in separate incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, targeted by gunmen who claimed they were reacting in part to incidents such as those that led to the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
Eugene declined to release details about the officer who opened fire. He referred questions to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, adding that he’d asked the agency to take over the investigation into the shooting.
“Bringing in an outside agency assures our commitment to transparency and objectivity in a very sensitive matter,” he said.
Prosecutors said they’ll decide whether the officer should be charged after the state agency completes its investigation.
“They will provide us with their factual findings and conclusions,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said. “At that time, we will conduct our own investigation and review all of the evidence to determine whether the actions of the shooting officer constitute a criminal act that can be proven beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt.”
‘Why did you shoot me?’
Kinsey was hit in his right leg after two or three shots were fired, according to his attorney.
Kinsey told WSVN he was flipped over and handcuffed after the shooting. According to Napoleon, Kinsey was on the ground for 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
Kinsey said he was stunned by the shooting, like when a mosquito bites unexpectedly.
“When he hit me, I’m like, I still got my hands in the air,” he said.
“I’m like, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ ” Kinsey said he asked the officer.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
North Miami police have said in a statement that officers had “attempted to negotiate with the two men on the scene.”
At some point, one of the officers discharged his weapon, police said. That officer has been placed on administrative leave, as is the standard procedure.
“I realize there may be questions about what happened on Monday night. You have questions. The community has questions. … I, personally, have questions. I assure you, we’ll get all the answers,” the police chief told reporters Thursday.
‘This is not supposed to be happening in North Miami’
Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, condemned the shooting: “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.”
Simon called on law enforcement agencies to examine policies on the use of force and responses to people with mental health issues.
“Without changes in policy and improved training of officers, we will very likely see more needless shootings and deaths at the hands of police,” he said in a statement.
A U.S. congresswoman whose district includes North Miami told reporters she was shocked by the video that shows the scene before the shooting.
“This is like a nightmare to me,” Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said.
“When you shoot a man lying on the ground with his hands up, explaining to you the situation, and you shoot him anyway? Something’s not right with this picture,” she said.
The shooting she said, isn’t typical of the city, which she described as a “melting pot.”
“This is not supposed to be happening in North Miami. North Miami is a city where the police officers and the community gel,” she said. “So many of our police officers come from the community (and) live in the community.”
‘He did everything he could possibly do’
A hospital spokeswoman said Kinsey is in good condition. His attorney called off a press conference where Kinsey was scheduled to speak to reporters Thursday morning, saying his client was traumatized and speaking with a psychiatrist.
“The reality is that he believed … that if you comply with the police and you lay on the ground with your hands up, and if you speak to them like my client was speaking to them, as Americans, we try to believe that that will not result in you getting shot,” Napoleon said.
Now Kinsey, his attorney said, doesn’t know what to tell his children.
“Physically, he will recover, but mentally, he felt like he did everything he could possibly do and that wasn’t good enough,” Napoleon said.
“You can’t shoot unarmed people, period.”