A North Miami police officer was trying to protect an unarmed mental health therapist when he “accidentally” fired and wounded the man, the head of the local police union said Thursday.
Therapist Charles Kinsey, 47, still recovering from at least one gunshot wound, said the officer, who hasn’t been publicly named by his department, blurted he didn’t know why he fired during the encounter on Monday. Video of the moments before and after the shooting is equally perplexing.
The officer “thought Kinsey’s life was in danger,” John Rivera, head of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association, said at a news conference.
Kinsey said from his hospital bed he was lying in the street Monday with his hands up when he was shot. He said he had been trying to calm an adult patient with autism who was playing with a toy truck in the street after running away from a nearby care facility.
“This isn’t a mistake in the sense that the officer shot the wrong guy, or that Mr. Kinsey was the bad guy,” Rivera said. “It was a mistake in the sense that he thought Mr. Kinsey was a victim and was about to lose his life. And so he attempted to stop the white male and accidentally shot Mr. Kinsey.”
Rivera said the officer wasn’t aiming for Kinsey when he fired.
He couldn’t explain why, after the shooting, officers rolled the bleeding Kinsey to his side and handcuffed him.
Kinsey, a behavioral therapist at the care facility, had been working to settle his patient when police arrived to investigate what authorities said was a 911 call about a suicidal “white-Hispanic” man with a gun. The supposed gun apparently was the toy truck.
Video taken by a witness shows Kinsey raising his hands as he lay on the street, and he can be heard identifying himself and his patient while telling police there was no need to shoot.
Rivera insisted it wasn’t until “much later” that the police learned Kinsey was a caregiver and that the man was a patient who didn’t understand the officer’s commands.
The officer thought Kinsey, who is black, was in danger from his patient, who is white, Rivera said.
Rivera said the officer didn’t see and hear everything captured on the video.
“The video that’s being shown is being portrayed poorly,” Rivera said, arguing that news outlets have added captions. He also said the person filming was at a different vantage point and “much closer” than the officer.
Neither Rivera nor police Chief Gary Eugene, who spoke a separate press conference earlier in the day, could say whether the officer had crisis-intervention training.
The North Miami Police Department has refused to release the officer’s identity, but has confirmed the officer served with the SWAT unit and has been a member of the force for four years. He has been placed on administrative leave.
Eugene said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is taking over the investigation of the shooting. The State Attorney’s office also is looking at the case.
Rivera alternately begged reporters to give the police the benefit of the doubt and chastised them for taking a critical view of the department. He lamented the challenges police officers face, saying “even when they’re right, we still crucify them.”
“At the end of the day, they’re not robots. They’re not computers. They’re God’s creations and they make mistakes,” Rivera said.
“This is not the smoking gun you think it is,” he added.
Kinsey, whose wound is described as non life-threatening, told WSVN he’s especially upset over how he was handcuffed after he was shot.
“Mr. Kinsey did everything right. Let’s be clear about that,” Rivera said, extending sympathies to Kinsey on behalf of the officer. “What the officer didn’t know was what the white [patient’s] intentions. He thought Mr. Kinsey was about to be killed.”
Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), who appeared with Eugene at the recently named chief’s news conference, said she shooting was disturbing.
“We’re pro-police. We love the police … But what I saw, I’m in shock,” Wilson said after reviewing the video. The congresswoman, who is black, co-founded the 5,000 Role Models of Excellence mentorship program for minority youth.
“We say to our boys and our men, ‘If you’re ever stopped by police, freeze. Don’t move,” she said, tearing up.
“What else could we have told him?” Wilson said of Kinsey.
“What could have saved him from being shot? From what I saw, he was laying on the ground, with his hands up, freezing, being rational. And he was still shot.”