Last Monday, a 23-year-old autistic patient, Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, wandered out of his group home in North Miami, Florida and was pursued by his behavioral health therapist Charles Kinsey. Soto was carrying a toy truck. As the father of an 18 year old with autism, I know of two things for certain; autistic patients will wander off and they are harmless to anyone but themselves far more often than not.
So, this story was one that hit so close to home that I purposely busied myself with other assignments. It was too real for me. After watching video of Alton Sterling and Philandro Castile’s last moments play out over and over again all over social media and the cable news networks, it just was too difficult for me to cover another police involved shooting.
Kinsey was laying on the ground and following the instructions of the arresting officer and was still shot.
North Miami police say they were summoned to the area by a 911 caller stating that a man had a gun and was threatening to kill himself. In the video, Kinsey can be heard explaining to the officer that he is a therapist and he was attempting to retrieve his patient.
He then informed the officer that his patient is autistic and was holding a toy truck. Mr. Kinsey is sitting on the ground with his hands raised when he is shot. Egregious, saddening and several levels above being a damn shame. Yet another brother judged, convicted and sentenced by the boys in blue.
(Video courtesy of Washington Post)
But this scenario has a terrifying wrinkle that was revealed when Dade County Police Benevolent Association president John Rivera opened his mouth.
“Fearing for Mr. Kinsey’s life, the officer discharged his firearm, trying to save Mr. Kinsey’s life,” Rivera, President of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, said. “And he missed, and accidentally struck Mr. Kinsey.”
“Folks, this is not what the rest of the nation is going through,” he continued.
So, what he’s saying is the officer meant to shoot a harmless, stationary, childlike patient who was playing with a toy truck.
As has been the case in most officer involved shootings in which race and class are concerned, the Police Benevolent Association are quick to proclaim the innocence of officers. Nevermind that the police officer was a member of the elite SWAT unit for four years, nevermind that the victim’s hands were in the air, nevermind that neither Mr. Kinsey nor his patient made any sudden moves.
According to the Dade County PBA, the officer wasn’t even aiming for Kinsey, but rather for his patient. According to a version of the story, an officer who has extensive training in such tense situations, decided to fire a shot in a situation that clearly did not warrant one. And that got me to thinking about how many disabled people die during encounters with trigger-happy peace officers.
A report published by the Ruderman Family Foundation back in May of 2016 says half of people killed by police have a disability. It also states that oftentimes, police are called for instances in which medical assistance is needed rather than law enforcement.
“Police have become the default responders to mental health calls,” write the authors, historian David Perry and disability expert Lawrence Carter-Long. They propose that “people with psychiatric disabilities” are presumed to be “dangerous to themselves and others”
Additionally, a 2015 study by the Washington Post came to very similar conclusions. It goes without saying that police officers have a very difficult job to perform and that all of society’s ills are dropped at their doorstep on a day to day basis.
However, when we see trained and highly-skilled police officers looking to shoot at a person who clearly is confused and non-threatening, it screams for increased training for sensitivity and understanding when interacting with people with special needs, or the need for an entire unit trained to handle situations in which special needs individuals and with mental disabilities are involved.