NORTH MIAMI, Fla. -- A police union head says a North Miami officer made a mistake when he shot an unarmed mental health caregiver who was holding his hands in the air Monday. The officer, he said, had been aiming instead at the caregiver's autistic client who he thought was trying to harm the man.
Charles Kinsey, 47, said he was trying to coax the 27-year-old autistic man back to a nearby mental health facility that he had wandered from. Police ordered Kinsey and the client, who was sitting in the street playing with a toy truck, to lie on the ground.
The moments before the shooting were recorded on cellphone video and show 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.
Kinsey says he was telling the officers he was unarmed and that his patient was holding a toy when an officer fired three times, striking Kinsey in the leg. After the shooting, Kinsey said he asked an officer why he was shot and the officer said "'I don't know.'"
Police 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.
Dade County Police Benevolent Association president John Rivera said Thursday that the officer involved, a decorated member of the SWAT team, did not hear what Kinsey was saying, reports CBS Miami. Rivera said the officer thought that the autistic man was attempting to harm Kinsey.
"This is not a case of a rogue cop," Rivera told reporters. "This is not a case of police abuse. This is a case where a police officer was trying to save Mr. Kinsey's life and, unfortunately, his shot went astray."
Though Kinsey is heard speaking in the cellphone recording, Rivera said the officers were further away than the person who recorded the incident.
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.
North Miami Police are releasing few details, citing an ongoing investigation, and the officer who fired the shots hasn't been identified. Police say he is a 30-year-old Hispanic male who has been with the department for four years.
The officer, however, released a statement Thursday.
"I took this job to save lives and help people," the officer said. "I did what I had to do in a split second to accomplish that and hate to hear others paint me as something I am not."
The officer has been placed on administrative leave, which is standard.
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.
"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."