Miami, FL – A Florida appeals court on Wednesday overturned the conviction of former North Miami Police Officer Jonathon Aledda, who was convicted of shooting at an autistic man whom he believed was holding a gun.
The incident occurred on July 18, 2016 when 27-year-old Arnaldo Rio Soto, a severely autistic man living in a group home for adults, wandered away from the facility carrying a shiny silver toy truck, NPR reported.
Rios sat down in the middle of the street to play with his truck and his caregiver, Charles Kinsey, followed him.
A passerby mistook the silver toy truck for a gun and called police to report that Rios was possibly armed, ABC News reported.
Officers responded to the scene under the belief they might be encountering a suicidal individual and surrounded the residential intersection where Rios and Kinsey were sitting.
A cell phone video filmed by a bystander showed Kinsey laying on his back next to Rios with his hands in the air, begging police not to shoot, ABC News reported.
Rios shouted “shut up” at Kinsey in the video.
Officer Aledda testified at trial that he mistook the scene for a hostage situation and only shot at Rios to protect Kinsey and other officers, ABC News reported.
“It appeared [Kinsey] was screaming for mercy or for help or something. In my mind, the white male had a gun,” Officer Aledda told the jury. “I couldn’t hear what the black man was saying. In my mind, I thought he might get shot.”
He said that he thought Rios’ toy truck was a gun, NPR reported.
Officer Aledda fired three shots at Rios and missed him, but one of the bullets struck his caregiver.
The officer was ultimately charged with two counts of attempted manslaughter.
In March of 2019, Officer Aledda went to trial, but the jury deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial, NPR reported.
Officer Aledda was offered a plea deal ahead of his second trial in June of the same year that would have let him plead guilty to culpable negligence and get no jail time; however, the officer declined the plea deal because it also required him to give up his police certifications and never be a police officer in the state of Florida again.
The jury in his second trial found Officer Aledda guilty of misdemeanor culpable negligence after four hours of deliberation, but not guilty of two felony attempted manslaughter charges, ABC News reported.
A Miami judge sentenced Officer Aledda to probation and granted him a “withhold of adjudication,” meaning no conviction appeared on his record, the Miami Herald reported.
The officer had hoped to be able to keep his job because the charge of which he was convicted was so minor, but the North Miami Police Department terminated him.
Defense attorneys appealed the conviction to the Third District Court of Appeals on the grounds that the judge had refused to allow former Officer Aledda’s SWAT commander to testify about the special training that he had been given on dealing with hostage rescues, the Miami Herald reported.
On Feb 16, the Florida appeals court ruled that the former officer’s conviction was tainted by the court’s refusal to allow that testimony and overturned the conviction.
The appeals court said the testimony the SWAT commander would have offered could have been key to the jury’s verdict, the Miami Herald reported.
“He offered the testimony to show how he was trained to react to the precise situation with which he was confronted,” the court opined. “Thus, the introduction of [the commander’s] testimony regarding Aledda’s training would assist – rather than confuse – the jury in determining whether Aledda’s response to the circumstances he encountered was criminally negligent.”
Now it is up to the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to decide if they want to try the case for a third time, the Miami Herald reported.