Therapist shot while attempting to help an autistic man
NORTH MIAMI — North Miami police said the shooting of an unarmed mental-health worker who was lying in the street with his hands in the air was accidental.
The police officer was instead aiming at the autistic man sitting on the road next to the man he hit, Charles Kinsey.
The caregiver had his hands up and was lying on his back while trying to calm the 24-year-old autistic patient who had wandered from a nearby group home where he worked. Kinsey, a behavior therapist at MacTown Panther Group Home, was shot once in the leg, sparking outrage across the nation over excessive use of police force. About 40 Black Lives Matter protestors demonstrated Thursday at the police department and demanded the officer be fired.
John Rivera, the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, said the officer was trying to save Kinsey from the autistic man, who was holding a white object later identified as a toy truck.
“I couldn’t allow this to continue for the community’s sake,” Rivera said Thursday, referring to the nationwide outcry. “Folks, this is not what the rest of the nation is going through.”
North Miami police said the officer is a 30-year-old “decorated” Hispanic man who has been on the force for about four years. The officer is a member of the department’s SWAT team.
Police went to Northeast 127th Street and 14th Avenue after getting a 911 call about a suicidal man with a gun in the roadway. When they arrived, they found the autistic man sitting on the ground holding his toy truck and Kinsey trying to coax him back to the group home, about 500 feet away.
Some of the incident was caught on bystander cellphone video. The video captured the events before and after the shooting but not the shooting itself. It is unclear who recorded the video.
Kinsey can be heard telling police, “All he has is a toy truck, a toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.”
Police ordered both men to lie on the ground. Kinsey complied but the autistic man, who Rivera described as white, did not and remained seated. The officer fired three rounds from an assault rifle.
“This wasn’t a mistake in the sense that the officer shot the wrong guy or he thought that Kinsey was the bad guy,” Rivera said. “The movement of the white individual made it look like he was going to discharge a firearm into Mr. Kinsey and the officer discharged trying to strike and stop the white man and unfortunately, he missed the white male and shot Mr. Kinsey by accident.”
Kinsey said he was handcuffed and positioned face down on the pavement for about 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived. He remains in the hospital recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said once the investigation is completed, prosecutors will decide if the officer should be charged.
“They will provide us with their factual findings and conclusions,” she said of the FDLE. “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.”
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson of Miami Gardens called for officers to be trained in handling suspects with autism and other mental-health issues.
The quotes in this story came from United Press International as well as Associated Press. The video is courtesy of WSVN TV Channel 7 in Miami.