TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - An appeals court Wednesday ordered a new trial for a former North Miami police officer who was convicted of culpable negligence in a high-profile shooting of a caretaker of an autistic man who had left a group home.
A three-judge panel of the 3rd District Court of Appeal said a circuit judge erred by refusing to allow a SWAT commander to testify about training Jonathan Aledda received related to hostage rescues.
Aledda's attorney Eric Schwartzreich told CBS4's Peter D'Oench, "Essentially what the appeals court said is that Officer Aledda should have been able to show what training he received and he was deprived of a fair trial. There were 13 officers on the scene and he was the only SWAT officer and he did what he was trained to do. He showed up on the scene and he believed there was a hostage situation and he fired to protect someone. I understand there are strong feelings on both sides of the aisle but this is not a case of a bad police officer. He was trying to save someone's life."
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Schwartzreich said Aledda was "excited" about the ruling and looking forward to getting his job back. He said Aledda did not want to comment right now because of the possibility that there would be a new trial.
A jury found Aledda guilty of misdemeanor culpable negligence, and he was sentenced to one year of probation.
The 2016 shooting incident came after Arnaldo Rios-Soto, a man with developmental disabilities, ran from a group home and sat in the middle of an intersection while carrying a toy truck, according to Wednesday's ruling.
Caretaker Charles Kinsey followed Rios-Soto to the intersection and told officers that Rios-Soto was holding a toy.
Ultimately, Kinsey got on the ground with Rios-Soto. Additional officers arrived, including Aledda, who thought Rios-Soto had a gun and was holding Kinsey hostage, the ruling said.
Aledda thought Kinsey was in danger and fired his weapon, hitting Kinsey in the hip while missing Rios-Soto. While finding Aledda guilty of culpable negligence, the jury acquitted him of two attempted manslaughter charges.
The appeals court said Aledda contended that he had acted based on his training as a SWAT officer and that he should have been allowed to present testimony from a commander, Angel Rivera.
"While the state was allowed to present evidence as to how other officers on the scene responded to the situation, and how 'shocked' those officers were that Aledda fired his weapon, the trial court's challenged evidentiary ruling precluded Aledda from presenting a key ingredient of his defense," stated the 16-page ruling, written by Judge Edwin Scales and joined by Judges Eric Hendon and Bronwyn Miller.
"Under the facts and circumstances of this case, we conclude that precluding Rivera's testimony constituted reversible error, and that Aledda should be afforded a new trial."
Kinsey's attorney Hilton Napoleon told D'Oench that, "This operation was not related to a SWAT operation. I am not sure what his SWAT training has to do with how he reacted. Most of the time we are not able to point to an officer's training to show that they did something wrong opposed to what they are trained to do. I talked to Mr. Kinsey this morning and he is willing to do whatever is necessary to secure a conviction in this case. He does not think that Officer Aledda should be a police officer and does not think he should get his credentials back."
Late Wednesday night, Kinsey spoke exclusively with D'Oench.
"It's sad how our justice system is. If that was a regular person, that person would have never had a chance to appeal those charges," he said.
Kinsey said he hopes Aledda never gets to wear a badge again.
"Yes, I will be against him being back on the force. Because, to me, it was reckless," Kinsey said.
And Kinsey, who said he would testify if there was another trial, told D'Oench the shooting, which left him using a cane, still haunts him.
"Mentally, you know, I am shaky. I still have to deal with this on a daily basis. And then you still hear about police brutality, police shooting unarmed Black men, stuff is still going on today," said Kinsey. "These guys aren't being held accountable for their actions. He needs to be held accountable. He shouldn't have a retrial and he should not be reinstated as a police officer at all, period."
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Mathew Dietz, the attorney for the autistic patient, said "We disagree with the court's decision. We hope that there are no officers trained to demonstrate that what Mr. Aledda did would be justified." He called what happened "absolutely scary."
He said Soto was just "rocking back and forth with a toy truck. My client would like to see a new trial but it's just difficult. The trial was exhausting and my client was vilified. Right now he is living in Orlando with his mother."
On Wednesday afternoon, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle released the following statement:
"Today's Appellate decision overturning Jonathon Aledda's culpable negligence conviction is disappointing to all who believed that this shooting incident was unnecessary and incorrect."
"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."
"Today's opinion says that now, a charged police officer, in defense of a criminal prosecution, can utilize police policy and training as evidence. At this point, we will begin exploring the possibility of obtaining a rehearing before the Third District Court of Appeals."
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