In a controversial case involving a police officer who shot a Black man who was trying to secure a mentally disabled man from harm in the middle of a city street, a Florida appeals court decided last week to overturn the 2019 conviction of a former North Miami Police Department cop.
The state said it is “disappointed” and may ask for a rehearing.
Former NMPD officer Jonathan Aledda was found guilty of misdemeanor culpable negligence for firing a shot that injured Charles Kinsey, a group home’s behavior technician, in July 2016 in North Miami, Florida.
Aledda claimed he believed one of the Kinsey’s autistic clients from the facility was holding him hostage at gunpoint, even though the object in the man’s hands was identified as a silver toy truck. The conviction led to Aledda being sentenced to administrative probation and ordered to write an essay.
On Wednesday, Feb. 16, the Florida Third District Court of Appeal overturned Aledda’s 2019 conviction, determining it was compromised because the trial judge improperly excluded testimony from the SWAT commander that trained him during his trial, even though the defense believed it could have helped the officer’s case.
The court will allow him to have another trial. If he is found not guilty he could get his job back.
The court opinion said, “We reverse and remand for a new trial because the trial court erred by refusing to allow Officer Aledda’s SWAT commander, Assistant Police Chief Angel Rivera, to testify about the training Aledda received as to SWAT (special weapons and tactics) policy and procedures for a hostage rescue.”
“We find the trial court’s refusal to allow Rivera to testify as to Aledda’s SWAT training regarding hostage procedures – has merit,” the opinion continued. “And requires us to reverse Aledda’s conviction for the crime of culpable negligence.”
Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released a statement saying, “Today’s Appellate decision is disappointing to all who believe that this shooting incident was unnecessary and incorrect.”
“Since the 1991 Lozano appellate decision, prosecutors have not been permitted to use police policy and training as evidence in criminal trials involving police officers,” it continued.
“Today’s opinion says that now, a charged police officer, in defense of a criminal prosecution, can utilize police policy and training as evidence. At this point, we will begin exploring the possibility of obtaining rehearing before the Third District Court of Appeals.”
On July 18, 2016, Aledda, a four-year veteran of the North Miami Florida police force and certified SWAT officer, was one of 13 other officers that responded to a dispatch call around 5 p.m. about a man at the intersection of NE 127th Street and 14th Avenue who might have been holding a gun while sitting in the roadway.
Arnaldo Rios-Soto, an autistic man with severe developmental disabilities, was the person in question. He was holding a silver toy truck, not a gun.
Rios-Soto had run away from the facility, and his caregiver, Kinsey, had followed him into the intersection. Standing over him, the attendant directed traffic around him in an effort to avoid anyone getting hit.
Before Aledda arrived, officers Kevin Crespo and Alens Bernadeau arrived on site and were informed by Kinsey of Rios-Soto’s behavioral challenges and that he was not armed.
Crespo and Bernadeau responded by ordering Kinsey — who had raised his arms to show he was not armed when the two officers arrived and produced rifles from their cop cars — to join his client and lie down on the ground next to him.
Kinsey complied, and a bystander’s video shows him lying on his back in the intersection with his hands outstretched as Rios-Soto sat next to him playing with the truck.
As other officers arrived, they were seemingly confused about what Rios-Soto was holding, and the radio dispatch recording that has emerged showed several voices discussing the situation as if they were unsure whether Rios-Soto had a gun.
Aledda — who has maintained he believed the disabled man sitting in the intersection next to Kinsey had a weapon and was holding Kinsey hostage — retrieved his assault rifle from the trunk of his vehicle when he arrived.
He subsequently set up a shooting position and from some 150 away took three shots, hitting the prone Kinsey once in the thigh but somehow missing his supposed target, the upright Rios-Soto.
Aledda was the only police officer to fire his weapon in this incident. Kinsey, wounded and still stretched next to the unharmed Rios-Soto, was handcuffed on the ground after the shooting before being taken to a hospital. It remains unclear why the man the officers supposedly believed was the hostage or victim would have been put in restraints if he was mistakenly shot.
In 2017 Aleddo was charged with two felony counts of attempted manslaughter with a deadly weapon, one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence for injuring Kinsey, and one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence for endangering Rios-Soto.
Two years later, he was acquitted by a jury of the misdemeanor culpable negligence charge relating to Rios-Soto. Despite being found not guilty on that count, a mistrial was declared after the jury could not reach a verdict for the other three charges.
During the second trial in June 2019, the officer was acquitted on the two attempted manslaughter counts, but convicted of misdemeanor culpable negligence. Now that one count was overturned.
Kinsey spoke out about the appeal court’s decision. saying Aledda should not return to work as an officer.
He said, “It’s saddening how our justice system is. I feel that as if, if that was a regular citizen here, that person would never have an opportunity to appeal those charges and I believe the only reason they’re doing this, is for him to get back on the force again. I don’t believe he should be on the force again.”
One reason the mental health specialist further believes the conviction should not have been overturned is that Aledda did show recklessness in his actions, or at the bare minimum a lack of skill.
“I was reading about the culpable negligence. I think he was charged with the right charges because he did put a lot of lives in danger that day, not just me, even his fellow officers,” said Kinsey, before adding, “He was on the SWAT. He was a sharpshooter and the shot that he took or the shots he took. He shot three times at 152 feet, he shouldn’t have missed his target. That’s the way I feel.”
Kinsey says that he is disappointed and does not believe that Aledda should be given another trial.
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