A video that shows an unarmed African-American man lying in the street with his arms in the air doesn’t tell the whole story of what happened when North Miami police shot him earlier this week, a union official said.
An officer accidentally shot behavior therapist Charles Kinsey, according to John Rivera, president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association. The officer, Rivera said, had been aiming for the patient beside Kinsey, whom he thought posed a danger.
But to Kinsey’s boss, that explanation doesn’t add up.
“The (union) is now trying to say they intended to shoot my client, and instead they shot my employee,” Clint Bower told CNN’s “New Day” on Friday. “To me, that’s just outrageous.”
Monday’s shooting has sparked protests, a state investigation and questions over whether race played a role in the officer’s response.
But there’s another side of the story that hasn’t gotten as much attention.
Kinsey is a highly trained behavior therapist who rushed out from a group home into the street to protect a patient with autism, his boss told CNN.
“Mr. Kinsey is a hero today. He saved the life of that disabled individual,” said Bower, who runs the center for the developmentally disabled where Kinsey has worked for more than a year.
“This individual he was caring for is a person with significant behavioral issues, and Charles was specifically chosen to work with this individual as his one-on-one staff, because he is that much of a skilled employee,” Bower said. “He has received extensive crisis intervention training. Unfortunately, our police department doesn’t seem to have received that same training.”
Video shows tense scene
Kinsey is hospitalized with a gunshot wound to his right leg after two or three shots were fired, according to his attorney.
A cell phone video, released by attorney Hilton Napoleon II and recorded by a bystander, shows the scene before the shooting: A man sits cross-legged on the ground, holding an object in his hand. Kinsey lies on the street, holds his hands in the air and yells to police that the man beside him is holding a toy truck, not a weapon.
The video doesn’t show what happened when the officer opened fire.
Kinsey told CNN affiliate WSVN-TV in Miami that after the shooting, he was flipped over and handcuffed. Another video released by his attorney shows both men flat on the ground, with two officers standing near them. Kinsey is lying in the road, on his stomach and handcuffed. According to Napoleon, Kinsey was on the ground for 20 minutes before an ambulance arrived.
Authorities haven’t released details about the aftermath of the shooting, and the police union did not explain why Kinsey was handcuffed.
Rivera, the police union chief, offered an explanation for the shooting Thursday. The police officer opened fire because he thought the other man, whom authorities later learned has autism, was holding a gun and was about to shoot Kinsey.
“Many officers thought the white male had a firearm. Only much later, when we’re able to Monday morning quarterback, do we find out that it’s a toy. Only much later do we find out that the individual was autistic. The officers on the scene did not know that,” he said.
Rivera said that the video footage was “being portrayed poorly.”
“This is not a case of a rogue cop. This is not a case of police abuse,” he said. “This is a case where a police officer was trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life, and unfortunately, his shot went astray.”
Video of the shooting itself hasn’t surfaced, Napoleon said. He said the union’s comments are “attempts to try to put a story together in an attempt to justify it.”
“That was a man who was at work, who was caring for another individual on the ground. He is still concerned, if you listen to the video, about his client. He still ends up getting shot,” Napoleon said. “I don’t understand, just like the rest of America, how someone could possibly try to justify this.”
Officer: ‘I did what I had to do’
Authorities haven’t released the name of the officer who opened fire. In a fact sheet released via social media, police said the officer is a 30-year-old Hispanic male with four years on the job.
The agency said officers responded to a 911 call about an armed man threatening to commit suicide, and opened fire after police attempted to negotiate.
“Mr. Kinsey did everything right, let’s be real clear about that,” Rivera said. He said that the police officer involved “wishes nothing but the best for Mr. Kinsey and the officer is praying for his speedy recovery, as are we.”
The unidentified officer, who has been placed on administrative leave, issued a statement in the form of a text message, which Rivera read to reporters.
“I took this job to save lives and help people,” according to the officer’s text statement. “I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that, and hate to hear others paint me as something I’m not.”
‘Why did you shoot me?’
Kinsey told WSVN he was stunned by the shooting, like when a mosquito bites unexpectedly.
“When he hit me, I’m like, I still got my hands in the air,” he said.
“I’m like, ‘Sir, why did you shoot me?’ ” Kinsey said he asked the officer.
“He said to me, ‘I don’t know.’ “
North Miami police have said officers had “attempted to negotiate with the two men on the scene.”
Kinsey told WSVN he tried to persuade police not to harm his patient. He asked his patient to be still and lie down.
“Please be still … get down … lay on your stomach,” Kinsey says in the video.
The man beside him rocks back and forth.
“I was more worried about him than myself,” Kinsey told WSVN.
“As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not gonna shoot me, that’s what I’m thinking,” he said. “Wow, was I wrong.”
State takes over investigation
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is investigating the shooting.
Protesters flooded the North Miami police headquarters Thursday, demanding answers.
Reports showing the video drew swift reactions on social media, with posts criticizing the officer who opened fire.
Kinsey’s shooting comes after a pair of officer-involved shootings led to the deaths of two men, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, kicking off national unrest and putting the spotlight again on police use of force, particularly against black men.
Eight law enforcement officers have since been killed in separate incidents in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, targeted by gunmen who claimed they were reacting in part to shootings such as those that led to the deaths of Sterling and Castile.
‘This is not supposed to be happening’
David Klinger, a former police officer who’s now a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis studying police violence, described the North Miami police’s response as “an absolute failure.”
“The guy is trying to communicate, ‘Hey, I’m an aid worker and this guy wandered away.’ Why in the world the police don’t know even that there is a residential place for people who are emotionally compromised?” he said. “For it to have devolved to a situation where deadly force was used makes absolutely no sense.”
A U.S. congresswoman whose district includes North Miami told reporters she was shocked by Kinsey’s shooting.
“This is not supposed to be happening in North Miami. North Miami is a city where the police officers and the community gel,” Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson said. “So many of our police officers come from the community (and) live in the community.”
Wilson described the city as a “melting pot.”
“We’re not accustomed to this tension that is evolving because of this shooting,” she said. “We have to follow up and see how we can break the tension and find solutions, because this cannot happen again.”