(MIAMI) — A North Miami group home employee has been hailed as a “hero” after he was shot and injured by a police officer while he was lying on the ground next to a man with autism, who had run away from the home.
Charles Kinsey, 47, a behavioral therapist at an assisted living facility, is seen in video released by his attorney talking to police while he is lying on the ground with his hands in the air, and with the man with autism at his feet.
The North Miami Police Department said it had received a 911 call of a man threatening to commit suicide with a gun pointed at his head. “At some point during the on-scene negotiation” with the two men, one of the officers fired, striking Kinsey, police said.
Kinsey “put his own life at risk” to protect the 24-year-old with autism, said Clint Bower, the president and CEO of MACtown, a provider of services for people with disabilities.
“He did everything he was supposed to do — everything anybody is ever trained to do to prevent that from happening and he still got shot,” Bower told ABC affiliate WPLG on Thursday.
“There’s obviously risks they have in their job, but certainly not [the] risk of being shot by police,” Bower said. “My employee was a hero.”
Kinsey was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries.
No gun was recovered, police said.
Bower said Kinsey went looking for the autistic man after he ran away, and when the man sat down in the street, Kinsey tried to get him out of the road so he wouldn’t get hit by a car. Kinsey’s training as a behavioral therapist also included crisis intervention training, Bower noted.
In the video of the encounter, Kinsey tells police, “all he has is a toy truck in his hand” — referring to the man with autism sitting at his feet.
“I am a behavior therapist,” Kinsey says in the video. He tells the man with autism, “Please be still.”
“My employee was telling police everything they needed to know — this individual has autism, this individual has a [toy] truck. You can hear him saying that,” Bower told WPLG, noting that you can also hear Kinsey saying “get down!” to prevent the man with autism from getting shot.
John Rivera, the president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, said Thursday afternoon that the officers “saw the white male almost on top of Mr. Kinsey, who had his hands up and who had his knees up, and to the officers, it looked like the white male was about to shoot Mr. Kinsey,” Rivera said. “The officers all thought the individual had a firearm, not a toy truck.”
Rivera said the officer “was trying to save the life of Mr. Kinsey and feels horrible that his aim missed and struck Mr. Kinsey.”
“The officers were justified in their actions. They did everything that they could do and were human beings. And we had a human being miss his target and unfortunately strike Mr. Kinsey,” Rivera said.
The name of the officer was not released. He was placed on administrative leave, police said. The officer said in a statement released by the police union, “I took this job to save lives and help people. 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.”
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has taken over the investigation. The state attorney’s office is also looking into the case, police said.
Kinsey’s attorney, Hilton Napoleon said, Thursday morning, “There is no justification for shooting an unarmed person who is talking to you and telling you that they don’t have a gun and that they’re a mental health counselor.”
“The video clearly shows him laying on his back. The video clearly shows him with his hands as high in the air as he can possibly get them,” Napoleon said.
“And he also explains to the police that the instrument in the autistic guy’s hand is a toy truck,” Napoleon said. “When you look at the video, there is no argument that can be made that that is a gun. The appearance of it is rectangular, it’s white, it’s not shiny, it’s not painted, and it’s not even shaped like a gun.”
Napoleon said that Kinsey was physically “doing OK.”
“I think one of the biggest hurdles that’s going to be tough for him in the long run is the mental aspect of it, because he feels he really did everything he could do to cooperate and go over and beyond to show police that he’s not armed and that he’s trying to help de-escalate a situation with a mental health individual,” Napoleon said. “It’s going to be a long haul to make sure that he gets over that fear.”
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