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North Miami cop who shot at autistic man with a toy truck testifies in his own defense

Miami Herald - 3/14/2019

March 14-- Mar. 14--North Miami Police Officer Jonathan Aledda fired three shots at a severely autistic man holding a silver toy truck.

He insisted he had to "take a life to save another."

Nearly three years after firing at Arnaldo Rios Soto -- missing and hitting his caretaker laying on the ground with his hands thrust in the air -- the North Miami cop told his story for the first time publicly. Aledda, charged with attempted manslaughter, took the witness stand in his own defense to try and prove he did nothing wrong.

He said he believed Rios, sitting on a roadway, had a gun and even pointed it at other officers surrounding him during a tense standoff on a blazing afternoon in July 2016. Aledda swore he never heard another officer who radioed the object was a toy. And he insisted that he legitimately thought caretaker Charles Kinsey was Rios' hostage.

"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."

Aledda, 32, said he was stunned to find out that he'd wounded Kinsey in the thigh, a shooting that spurred outrage across the country as video of the shooting of the black man went viral on social media.

"I was devastated. I was trying to do everything in my power to help him," Aledda said, his voice cracking, his eyes teary

Aledda is accused of two counts of attempted manslaughter, and two misdemeanor counts of culpable negligence.

Bystander video of Kinsey, laying on the ground and pleading for officers not to shoot, went viral, just one of many high-profile confrontations between police and community members that sparked scrutiny on law enforcement's tactics.

The trial is being closely watched in South Florida. State law gives police officers wide latitude to use deadly force to protect themselves, or the public.

Aledda is the first cop in Miami-Dade to be tried criminally for firing his gun in the line of on duty since 1989, when the prosecutors convicted Miami Officer William Lozano of manslaughter, a case that was ultimately overturned and lost on re-trial. Aledda was the first police officer to be charged for an on-duty shooting under State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who assumed the post in 1993.

Rios, who is largely unable to communicate with others, lived at a group home for the disabled called MACtown. Kinsey was his caretaker. That day, Rios wandered away from the home, then sat down in the intersection while playing with the silver truck, one of his favorite toys.

The autistic man pointed the toy at a woman driving by. She mistook it for a potential gun and called 911. As Kinsey tried to coax Rios back into the home, North Miami offices arrived and surrounded Kinsey, who immediately thrust his hands to the air, loudly trying to explain that neither he nor Rios were armed.

Over the past week at trial, prosecutors have sought to prove that Rios was essentially a "boy with a toy" who posed no threat to North Miami officers, several of whom have testified for the state.

Two officers, Kevin Crespo and Alens Bernadeau, the officers closest to the men in the intersection, testified that they had concluded the silver object was no weapon. Importantly for the state, Bernadeau even radioed that the object was a toy.

Officer Kevin Warren, who right next to Aledda taking cover behind a black car some 50 yards away, told jurors that he could hear the radio transmissions. Although unsure of what the object was, Warren said he never considered firing his pistol.

"My finger was off the trigger," Warren told jurors on Monday.

Another officer, Ashlee Villard, said she never thought Kinsey was a hostage.

"The black male was laying on the ground with his hands up, and the Hispanic male wasn't really engaging with him. He was just kind of on his own little world," Villard testified on Wednesday.

Aledda's defense team presented another North Miami cop who said she believed Kinsey was a hostage.

But Aledda's testimony was the most important.

Miami-Dade prosecutor Reid Rubin tangled with Aledda with sharp questioning, pointing out that the officer claimed to hear some radio transmissions, but conveniently not the ones that confirmed Rios had only a toy in his hand.

"I never heard that sir," said Aledda, who said he's had malfunctioning radios for months, but the department refused to give him a brand-new one.

Rubin grilled Aledda for his firing his weapon from some 50 yards away -- even though he wasn't completely sure it was a gun, and there was a real chance he might hit Kinsey or bystanders.

"It was like an arcade game, but with human beings, wasn't it?" Rubin said

"No sir, it was not an arcade game," Aledda said. "This is life and death, sir."

Said Rubin: "You chose death."

"To save Mr. Kinsey's life," Aledda replied.

Closing arguments will take place Thursday afternoon before Miami-Dade CIrcuit Judge Alan Fine.


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