A black therapist who was trying to calm an autistic man in the middle of the street says he was shot by police even though he had his hands in the air and repeatedly told them that no one was armed.
The moments before the shooting were recorded on cellphone video and show Charles Kinsey lying on the ground with his arms raised, talking to his patient and police throughout the standoff with officers, who appeared to have them surrounded.
“As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me. This is what I’m thinking. They’re not going to shoot me,” he told WSVN-TV from his hospital bed, where he was recovering from a gunshot wound to his leg. “Wow, was I wrong.”
The shooting comes amid weeks of violence involving police. Five officers were killed in Dallas two weeks ago and three law enforcement officers were gunned down Sunday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Before those shootings, a black man, Alton Sterling, 37, was fatally shot during a scuffle with two white officers at a convenience store. In Minnesota, 32-year-old Philando Castile, who was also black, was shot to death during a traffic stop. Cellphone videos captured Sterling’s killing and aftermath of Castile’s shooting, prompting nationwide protests over the treatment of blacks by police.
At a news conference Thursday, North Miami Police Chief Gary Eugene said the investigation had been turned over to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the local state attorney. He called it a “very sensitive matter” and promised a transparent investigation, but he refused to identify the officer or answer reporters’ questions. Eugene, a Haitian-American with 30 years of South Florida police experience, just became chief last week.
“I realize there are many questions about what happened on Monday night. You have questions, the community has questions, we as a city, we as a member of this police department and I also have questions,” he said. “I assure you we will get all the answers.”
The chief said officers responded after getting a 911 call about a man with a gun threatening to kill himself, and the officers arrived “with that threat in mind” — but no gun was recovered.
The video does not show the moment of the shooting. Kinsey’s attorney, Hilton Napoleon II, said there was about a two-minute gap in which the person who shot the video had switched off, thinking nothing more noteworthy would happen. It then briefly shows the aftermath of the shooting. He would not say who gave him the video.
Kinsey, 47, said he was trying to coax his 27-year-old patient back to a nearby facility that he had wandered from. Police ordered Kinsey and the patient, who was sitting in the street playing with a toy truck, to lie on the ground.
“Lay down on your stomach,” Kinsey says to his patient in the video, which was shot from about 30 feet away and provided to the Miami Herald. “Shut up!” responds the patient, who is sitting cross-legged in the road.
Kinsey said he was more worried about his patient than himself.
“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,” Kinsey said.
An officer later fired three times, striking Kinsey in the leg, assistant police chief Neal Cuevas told the newspaper.
After the shooting, Kinsey said he asked an officer why he was shot and the officer said “‘I don’t know.'” Napoleon said officers handcuffed Kinsey and left him lying in the street on his stomach for 20 minutes without rendering first aid.
During a Thursday news conference, John Rivera, who runs Miami-Dade County’s police union, said the officer believed Kinsey’s patient was armed, and the officer was trying to shoot the patient in an attempt to save Kinsey’s life.
North Miami has a population of about 62,000 people, nearly 60 percent African-American. The shooting took place in a racially mixed, lower-income area of the city.
Witnesses told The Associated Press on Thursday that at least four North Miami officers aimed rifles at Kinsey and the autistic man. Two can be seen in the video, peering from behind utility poles about 75 feet away. The other two, witnesses said, were on the opposite side of Kinsey, off camera, standing behind a car in an apartment parking lot, about 150 away.
Thomas Matthews, 73, said he watched the lead up to the shooting through binoculars. He said he tried to tell an officer that the autistic man had a toy truck but she told him to get back.
“If she would have told the other officers, maybe they wouldn’t have shot,” said Matthews, an African-American. He ran a North Miami flower shop before retiring and has lived in the area for years. He said he has never had a problem with North Miami police.
“But I guess with all the shootings that are going on, they are nervous and shook up,” Matthews said.
Nancy Abudu, the American Civil Liberties Union’s legal director in Florida, said her group hasn’t received any brutality complaints about the North Miami police or about any questionable shootings before this week’s.
Napoleon, Kinsey’s attorney, said he is already talking to North Miami city officials about a monetary settlement for his client, who is married with five children. City officials did not return a phone call seeking confirmation.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch told reporters the Justice Department is aware of the shooting and working with local law enforcement to gather all of the facts and to decide how to proceed.
U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, who represents the area, said she was in shock.
“From what I saw, he was lying on the ground with his hands up. Freezing. But he was still shot,” said Wilson, a Democrat.
“This is not typical of North Miami,” she said. “We’re not accustomed to this tension. … This cannot happen again.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.