A North Miami police commander was fired on Wednesday after an internal affairs investigation concluded he hindered an investigation into a police-involved shooting and misled the North Miami police chief.
The commander, Emile Hollant, was in a position of authority last year when fellow officer Jonathan Aledda, a member of the department’s SWAT team, shot a group home therapist named Charles Kinsey, striking him in the leg. Kinsey was reportedly following police orders and pleading with officers not to shoot just before the incident.
Kinsey had been attempting to help Arnaldo Rios, a severely mentally impaired 27-year-old man and one of Kinsey’s patients at a nearby group home, who had police called on him for sitting in the middle of the road.
When police arrived at the scene, Kinsey was sitting next to Rios, trying to convince him to get out of the road. A silver toy truck Rios had in his hand was mistaken by officer Aledda for a weapon, prompting him to fire at Rios, but he missed and hit Kinsey, who fortunately survived with a minor injury.
At the time of the incident, many questions were raised about the officers’ conduct. Why, for example, would Aledda stop shooting after firing one round at the wrong target? If he believed Rios to be a threat, the threat wouldn’t have gone away after he mistakenly shot Kinsey.
“Unless it’s an accidental discharge with a three-shot automatic weapon, it boggles my mind,” said Ken Harms, former Miami police chief and police policy expert. “You neutralize the threat. He [Rios] wasn’t neutralized when he shot the caretaker in the leg.”
Aledda’s attorney, Andrew Axelrad, on the other hand, defended his client’s actions.
“This was not an accidental discharge,” Axelrad said. “This was a very real perceived threat to the officer — and it simply missed the mark. He had a fear the Mr. Kinsey was going to be killed.”
When the Miami Herald asked why Aledda stopped firing after he missed his target, the attorney said officers are trained to stop shooting when a threat is gone, “So obviously in Mr. Aledda’s mind, the threat was gone.”
It isn’t clear if the attorney meant that his client believed he hit Rios.
Cmdr. Hollant said he wasn’t a direct witness to the shooting, claiming he was looking for binoculars in his patrol car at the time.
Three weeks after the shooting, the State Attorney’s Office for Miami-Dade concluded that Hollant told the truth, however, on Wednesday North Miami released findings from an internal affairs investigation that directly contradict the State Attorney’s conclusion.
Two officers on the scene said Hollant was gone for only about 30 seconds and was fully present for the shooting, looking through binoculars at the moment Aledda fired his rifle.
The city’s investigation also said Hollant misled Police Chief Gary Eugene by claiming he wasn’t present for the shooting. As a result, the report continues, Hollant was not subjected to the common police procedure of separating witnesses of a crime for an individualized interview.
The inquiry “revealed Commander Hollant appears to have been present prior, during, and after the shooting incident,” the Internal Affairs report said. “Commander Hollant was the highest ranking officer on the scene and should have taken command of the scene.”
“He lied to me, the commander completely lied to me,” the police chief said.
Hollant told state investigators last year that, after making a radio dispatch that Rios appeared to be loading a gun, he left, but conclusions of the city’s internal inquiry are directly at odds with that claim.
Hollant’s attorney, Michael Joseph, says his client is being used as a “fall guy” to take all the blame for the incident.
“The city administration is doubling down on a lie that they pushed on the day of the shooting and in the days following the shooting,” Joseph said. “Myself and my client look forward to a full exoneration and for the truth to fully come out.”
The commander, who had been with the department since 2000, was promoted only about a week before the shooting. He was on suspended pay in recent months, during the investigation.
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