MIAMI — When a 23-year-old man with autism carrying a toy truck wandered from a mental health center out into the street Monday, a worker there named Charles Kinsey went to retrieve him.
A few minutes later the man with autism was still sitting cross-legged blocking the roadway while playing with the small, rectangular white toy. And Kinsey was prone on the ground next to him — a bullet from an assault rifle fired by a police officer having struck his leg.
“He throws his hands up in the air and says, ‘Don’t shoot me.’ They say lie on the ground, so he does,” Kinsey’s attorney Hilton Napoleon said Wednesday. “He’s on his back with his hands in the air trying to convince the other guy to lie down. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Cellphone video footage obtained by Napoleon clearly shows the heavy-set man with autism sitting and playing with his toy while Kinsey, dressed in a yellow shirt and shorts, obeys police orders to lie down on his back.
The video, taken before the officer fired his weapon, shows Kinsey on his back with his hands in the air telling police he didn’t have a weapon and asking them not to fire. At one point the man with autism appears to yell at Kinsey to shut up. A second brief video shows officers who are carrying rifles physically patting down Kinsey and the man with autism while they are lying on the ground.
In an interview with WSVN-Channel 7, Kinsey said that after he was shot, officers approached and flipped him over and handcuffed him.
“Sir, there’s no need for firearms,” Kinsey told the news station he said to police before he was shot. “It was so surprising. It was like a mosquito bite.”
Kinsey said when he asked the officer why he fired his weapon, the cop responded, “I don’t know.”
By Wednesday, North Miami police hadn’t offered much of an explanation. Assistant Police Chief Neal Cuevas said the investigation has been turned over to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
Cuevas said officers received a 911 call indicating a man was in the street with a gun threatening to kill himself. They responded to Northeast 127th Street and about 14th Avenue and began barking orders. When the man with autism didn’t comply, an officer fired three times, striking Kinsey once in the leg. He was transported to Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Cuevas said he didn’t know who the officer was aiming at when he struck Kinsey. The officer’s name hasn’t been released.
In a prepared statement, North Miami police spokeswoman Natalie Buissereth said “arriving officers attempted to negotiate with the two men on the scene, one of whom was later identified as suffering from autism… At some point during the on-scene negotiation, one of the responding officers discharged his weapon.”
Police still hadn’t released any paperwork or the incident report of the shooting by Wednesday. There is no indication that a weapon of any kind was found. The officer who fired his weapon has been placed on administrative leave, as is standard, for at least a week.
Kinsey, 47, who’s worked at MacTown Panther Group Homes for a little over a year, wasn’t badly injured and is expected to be home by Thursday.
By Wednesday, Napoleon said he was already negotiating a possible settlement with the city of North Miami.
“They realize this was something inappropriate regarding the shooting,” he said. “If police departments come out more and admit fault, that would probably go a long way,” toward improving relations with the public, he said.
The incident highlights how explosive a situation can get when cops already on edge are forced to confront someone with autism or a mental disability.
In dealing with individuals with mental illness, experts say, those dangers only multiply.
“I was more worried about him than myself,” Kinsey told Channel 7 of the man with autism, whose name hasn’t been released.
Said his wife Joyce Kinsey: “I’m just grateful he’s alive and able to tell his story.”
© 2016 Miami Herald
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC