Amid weeks of turmoil and racial tension in urban America, North Miami has found itself drawn into the national conversation after a police officer shot a black caretaker who said he was trying to assist an autistic patient.
Captured on video, it appears the caretaker had raised his hands in the air when a North Miami police officer fired several shots, wounding him in one leg.
Police said they had been summoned to a North Miami neighborhood Wednesday after receiving a 911 call that indicated there was a man with a gun. North Miami Police Chief Gary C. Eugene said during a news conference Thursday that officers responded with that threat in mind.
No gun was found, though Charles Kinsey said his patient — a 23-year-old autistic man who had wandered from an assisted-living facility — was clutching a small toy truck, which may have been mistaken for a gun.
Kinsey said he was trying to persuade his patient to return to the facility when officers arrived and ordered him to get on the ground.
“When I went to the ground, I’m going to the ground just like this here with my hands up,” Kinsey told WSVN-TV in an interview from the hospital, where he is recovering.
“And I am laying down here just like this, and I’m telling them again, ‘Sir, there is no need for firearms. I’m unarmed, he’s an autistic guy. He got a toy truck in his hand.”
In a cellphone video that Kinsey’s attorney said was filmed by a bystander, Kinsey can be seen lying on the ground and heard urgently telling police in a loud voice, “All he has is a toy truck — a toy truck. I am a behavior therapist at a group home.”
“Rinaldo — please be still, Rinaldo. Sit down, Rinaldo. Lay on your stomach,” Kinsey calls out to his patient.
Kinsey said he was “more worried about him than myself, because as long as I got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me — this is what I’m thinking. Wow, was I wrong.”
Police reportedly shot him three times.
“I’m like, ‘I still got my hands in the air,’ and I said, ‘No, I just got shot!’ And I’m saying, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ And his words to me — he said, ‘I don’t know,’” Kinsey said.
Police said that officers who arrived at the scene attempted to negotiate with Kinsey and his patient before an officer “discharged his weapon.”
“There is no justification for shooting an unarmed person who’s looking at you and telling you that they’re a mental health counselor,” said Hilton Napoleon II, an attorney who is now representing Kinsey.
Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, who represents a heavily African American district in Broward County, said viewing the video was like watching a nightmare unfold.
“What else could he have done?” she said of Kinsey’s actions. “What could have saved him from being shot?”
The incident comes on the heels of law-enforcement-related shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana that resulted in the deaths of two black men, setting off protests around the nation and fatal ambushes on police officers in Dallas, and Baton Rouge, La.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting. The officer who discharged his weapon has been placed on administrative leave, something that is standard procedure in officer-involved shootings.
Neuhaus is a special correspondent.
3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with staff reporting.
This article was originally published at 6:05 a.m.