Cop Who Shot Unarmed Black Man Gets Victory in Appellate Court
By John Dorschner
While many are saying that recent verdicts in Minnesota and Georgia have started a new era in seeing that justice is done for Black victims, a continuing Miami case shows how hard it is to convict cops in much of the country.
I’m speaking of the case of Jonathan Aledda, a North Miami officer, who was the first cop in a quarter century to be indicted in Miami-Dade County for shooting a person. For years, prosecutors had avoided such cases because they feared acquittals of cops would lead to riots, as happened several times in the past.
The Aledda case was so egregious — shooting a Black man sitting on the ground with his hands in the air — that the state attorney’s office felt it had to act.
Aledda’s court sage lasted years — and will last longer thanks to an appellate court ruling this week that reversed the one conviction that the state had managed to get.
The Third District Court of Appeal ruled on Wednesday: “We conclude that the trial court erred by not allowing Aledda — charged by the State with culpable negligence for his assessment of and response to a crime scene — to introduce testimony regarding how Aledda was trained to assess and respond in such circumstances.”
What’s weird, as the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office pointed out in a statement, is that the decision seemed to contradict an earlier case in which a cop’s conviction was thrown out for exactly the opposite reason: “Since the 1991 Lozano appellate decision, prosecutors have not been permitted to use police policy and training as evidence in criminal trials involving police officers.”
The background, if you need it: In July 2016, an adult autistic man, Arnaldo Rios Soto, walked away from a North Miami group home for the developmentally disabled and a behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, went after him. Police received a call that a man was trying to kill himself.
Here’s from my account from my book, Verdict on Trial: The Inside Story of the Cop Case That Ignited Miami’s Deadliest Riot, concerning the 1980 trial of five officers accused of killing Black motorcyclist:
“Squad cars raced to the scene. With guns drawn, officers confronted the pair, who were in the middle of the street.
“Rios Soto was sitting down, playing with a silver toy truck. He appeared a bit confused by all the police attention. Kinsey, a large Black man, was well aware of the many cases of police shooting unarmed Black men. He saw the cops and their guns. He knew he was in trouble. He sat down in the middle of the street. He raised both arms in the air. He shouted that Rios Soto was not a threat. ‘All he has is a toy truck.’ A spectator recorded the incident on a cellphone.”
“The officers closest to the pair saw what was happening. One said on police radio that the guy was holding a toy.”
Aledda, 50 yards away, fired an M4 rifle. He hit Kinsey in the leg.
Only nine months after the incident, and a ton of publicity, were charges filed: attempted manslaughter and culpable negligence. For two years, the trial was postponed. In March 2019, the trial finally occurred. Aleppo said he thought it was a hostage situation. He was trying to hit Rios. He hit Kinsey by mistake, he testified. The jury was hung. Five of six voted to acquit.
In June 2019, a second trial was held. This time, Aleppo was acquitted of attempted manslaughter, but convicted of culpable negligence, a misdemeanor. The judge ordered no jail time, simply one year of probation.
In the appellate court decision on this case, the judges recognized the court’s own ruling in the case of William Lozano, a Miami officer accused of killing two Black men on a speeding motorcycle in Overtown in 1989.
A jury found Lozano guilty, but the appellate court — the same Third District — said the trial judge had erred in allowing testimony that Lozano had violated established police procedures in shooting unarmed men on a motorcycle. Police procedures set up a double standard, the judges ruled. The focus should be whether Lozano broke Florida law.
On re-trial, in Orlando, Lozano was acquitted. What’s more, prosecutors said, the appellate ruling damaged many police shooting cases going forward. And now, after the Aledda decision, it turns out, prosecutors will be in a double bind for future cases.
This time, the appellate court stated the difference between Lozano and Aledda was that in Lozano, it was the state that wanted to prove the officer ignored proper procedures, while in Aledda, it was the defense who wanted to show he was following the guidelines.
The judges wrote: “Aledda sought to introduce [Assistant Chief Angel] Rivera’s testimony to establish how Aledda was trained as a SWAT officer to assess and respond to the situation presented in this case. This evidence certainly was relevant to assist the jury in its determination of whether that assessment and response by Aledda constituted a ‘course of conduct showing reckless disregard for human life, or for the safety of persons exposed to its dangerous effects, or such an entire want of care as to raise a presumption of a conscious indifference to consequences,’” which is what he was charged with.
“How Aledda was trained, and the extent to which his actions were consistent with his training, directly relate to whether Aledda properly or negligently responded to the circumstances with which he was confronted.”
Since he was convicted of negligence, in other words, his training was relevant in this case.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office stated after hearing the ruling: “At this point, we will begin exploring the possibility of obtaining a rehearing before the Third District Court of Appeals.” No mention of a possible third trial.
It’s worth noting that it’s rare for a party convicted of a misdemeanor with no jail time to go to the expense of appealing the verdict, and it’s unclear who paid for the appeal, but without a conviction, the way will now be cleared for Aledda to go back to police work — and once again carry a gun, protecting the streets from alleged evil doers, including a man lying on the street with his hands up.