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Jury deadlocks on 3 counts against Miami cop who shot at autistic man

David Ovalle, Miami Herald on

Published in News & Features

MIAMI -- A jury on Friday deadlocked on three charges against a North Miami police officer who shot at an autistic man holding a shiny toy truck, and acquitted him of one misdemeanor.

Officer Jonathan Aledda was cleared of one count of misdemeanor culpable negligence. But jurors could not agree on three others counts, including two charges of felony attempted manslaughter. The jury foreperson said the vote was 5-1 to acquit Aledda of all the charges.

A mistrial was declared on the three counts, and now prosecutors must decide whether to re-try Aledda.

Five of the six jurors agreed with Aledda's story that he fired his rifle because he believed Arnaldo Rios Soto was a gun-wielding kidnapper who was holding another man, Charles Kinsey, hostage in the middle of a busy North Miami intersection.

Rios, in fact, was a severely autistic man with the mental capacity of a child. He had run away from a group home and sat down in the road. Kinsey, his caretaker, was trying to usher him back home when a motorist called 911, believing the silver toy Rios was holding might be a gun.

The decision in the Aledda case comes nearly three years after the July 2016 shooting, which unfolded against the backdrop of a series of controversial killings of black men by police around the United States.

Bystander video of the confrontation -- showing Kinsey, a black man with his hands in the air in surrender -- went viral, raising questions about the tactics of the North Miami police department.

Kinsey was shot in the thigh and survived, although fragments of the bullet remain embedded in his body. Rios was unharmed.

Prosecutors said Aledda was not justified in shooting at Rios from 50 yards away.

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During the two-week trial, a host of North Miami police officers who responded to the scene testified that they did not think that the autistic man appeared to be a threat. The two cops closest to Rios and Kinsey said they had concluded that the shiny object was not a gun -- and one had even said that over a police radio transmission.

But Aledda, 32, testified that he did not hear the dispatch. Taking cover behind a black car, Aledda said, he saw Rios turn the shiny object toward Kinsey, who was laying next to him.

"At that point, I had to fire my shot. I thought the black male was going to get executed," Aledda told jurors, adding: "My heart was pounding out of my chest. I've never been in the position to take a life to save another."

But prosecutors said Aledda should have known Rios was not a threat.

"With a lot of power and authority also comes a lot of responsibility. The shots Jonathan Aledda fired were not a misfire," Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Horn told jurors on Thursday during closing arguments. "Each shot was intentional while he was trying to kill Arnaldo Rios Soto. Each shot was unnecessary and unreasonable."

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