Second police officer on leave for ‘conflicting statements’ about shooting of unarmed man

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MIAMI — (Scroll down for video) — Authorities in North Miami, Florida, said Friday that they had placed a second police officer on leave as part of the investigation into a police shooting there earlier this week in which an officer shot and wounded an unarmed man.

The second officer was placed on unpaid administrative leave because of “conflicting statements given to the investigators” looking into the shooting, Larry Spring Jr., the North Miami city manager, said at a news conference.

The shooting Monday captured widespread attention after footage emerged showing the moments before the incident. In this video, Charles Kinsey, the man who was shot and wounded, is seen lying on the ground with his hands in the air and yelling to police that a man seated near him – a man with autism whom Kinsey cared for, it later emerged – was holding only a toy truck and not a weapon.

The officer who fired three rounds, striking Kinsey once in the leg, was identified Friday as Jonathan Aledda, a SWAT team member and four-year veteran of the department who had been singled out in the past for his tenacity and police work. Aledda, whose first name was also spelled “Jonathon” in documents released Friday, has been placed on leave because of the shooting.

“I assure you that we will go wherever the truth takes us,” North Miami mayor Smith Joseph said.

Spring said that Cmdr. Emile Hollant was placed on leave due to “evidence of conflicting statements” he gave to investigators. He declined to elaborate on what Hollant said.

Police said no gun was recovered at the scene. They had initially declined to identify the officer, as did the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the state agency that has taken over the shooting investigation. Authorities have released few details about the shooting, saying only that the officers were responding to a report of an armed man who was threatening to commit suicide.

“This investigation will be done thoroughly and it will be done right,” Councilman Scott Galvin said at Friday’s press conference. “It will be done with transparency and there will not be any cover-ups in the city of North Miami.”

Galvin also told reporters that “the police officer who you’ve just heard named, who has been put on leave, totally violated his trust from the public to protect and serve.”

While Galvin did not specify which officer he was referring to, he appeared to be referring to Hollant, adding: “By giving misinformation to this department, he not only jeopardized Mr. Kinsey’s life and the life of his client, but he jeopardized the life of every police officer who serves in this city.”

“We will not tolerate those types of behavior,” he said.

Spring said authorities have received hundreds of calls and emails in the wake of the shooting. A team has been assembled to go through all the comments, and officials have arranged for a “First Amendment zone” outside the police department, so that peaceful protesters can gather.

This weekend, officers would be in the community, visiting with residents and in churches, “to show that we stand with the community, not against the community,” he said.

The shooting in North Miami comes at a time of increased tensions between law enforcement and civilians. Recordings of recent fatal shootings by police in Louisiana and Minnesota stirred renewed unrest, and sparked conversations about the use of deadly force, while the fatal shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, stoked fears about dangers faced by officers in the line of duty.

A day before Aledda was named, a police union official said that the officer had actually been aiming for the man with autism, rather than Kinsey, when he opened fire.

John Rivera, president of the Miami-Dade County Police Benevolent Association, called the shooting an accident and said Aledda thought that the man with the toy had a gun.

“Fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, [Aledda] discharged his firearm,” Rivera said during a news conference Thursday. “In trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life, he missed and accidentally struck Mr. Kinsey.”

Rivera said that “the officers on the scene” did not know the man with autism had a toy rather than a weapon. However, Kinsey can be heard in the video shouting that the other man had a toy, and a witness in the area said he saw it through binoculars and tried to tell police, only to be brushed off.

“Sometimes police officers make mistakes,” Rivera said. “They are not computers. They are not robots. They are God’s creation.”

In the video showing the moments before the shooting, Kinsey can be seen lying on his back, hands raised, yelling to the officers, two of whom are seen hiding behind telephone poles a few dozen feet away.

“All he has is a toy truck in his hand,” Kinsey yells, while the other man sits next to him. “That’s all it is. There is no need for guns.”

Police said they later learned that Kinsey worked at a group home for people with intellectual disabilities and that the other man, who has autism, had left the facility.

In a statement obtained by the Miami Herald, Kinsley’s employer called him a “special hero,” who went “above and beyond” to protect the man, who lives in a group home.

“Charles is an honest, hardworking and dedicated individual who did every-thing in his power to de-escalate a very volatile and dangerous situation, while complying fully with the orders of the North Miami Police Department,” the MACtown statement read.

In the statement, MACtown described the group home resident as a “severely autistic 24-year-old young man.”

“Many of us are so upset because we work so hard to improve the lives of the people we serve — people with intellectual disabilities,” the statement read. “It is unimaginable, that as law-abiding citizens, simply doing our job, that our lives can be unjustly and unfairly threatened.”

City officials, asked whether they were concerned about Aledda’s safety given the recent shooting attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas, said that “steps have been taken” to protect him.

Aledda was named as the department’s officer of the month in October 2014. The department’s announcement of the honor singled out two incidents for praise: In one case, they said, Aledda took into custody a man who had carried out a violent string of robberies across South Florida. In another, they described how Aledda arrested a man who robbed a Safeway and struck the officer multiple times before being taken into custody.

“Officer Aledda has been diligent in his work and consistently tenacious in his efforts to combat crime and apprehend criminals,” the announcement said. “He has been responsible for fifty-one arrests in a two month span. He brings credit upon himself and this agency.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is continuing its investigation of the shooting. When that probe finishes, Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, said her office will carry out its own investigation to determine whether the shooting was a criminal act.

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Mark Berman, Sarah Larimer