Charges in Kinsey Case Raise Questions About Past Police Killings Rundle Neglected
Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office

Charges in Kinsey Case Raise Questions About Past Police Killings Rundle Neglected

Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the county's top prosecutor, made history yesterday. For the first time in her 24 years on the job, she charged a Miami-area cop for an on-duty shooting when she filed attempted manslaughter charges against North Miami Officer Jonathan Aledda, who shot Charles Kinsey, an unarmed black man, in the leg last year.

The ample evidence suggests it was an obvious decision. According to an arrest affidavit, cops announced over the radio repeatedly that Kinsey's companion, the autistic Arnaldo Rios-Soto, was holding a toy, not a gun, as police had feared. Aledda fired anyway.

But compared to the long list of cases in Rundle's history, the decision to charge Aledda actually raises more questions than it answers. Kinsey's shooting was far from the most egregious act carried out by a Miami-area cop since 1993, when Rundle took over as state attorney. In fact, unlike many officers Rundle declined to prosecute, Aledda did not, thankfully, kill anyone.

So if Rundle is now willing to charge Aledda for shooting an unarmed guy in the leg, what is the public to make of the many, many police killings of unarmed men in which she didn't file charges, especially when multiple cops were charged for on-duty killings under her predecessors?

"This was a disgusting political decision that had the added benefit of being the right thing to do," Billy Corben, the Miami filmmaker, criminal-justice-reform advocate, and vocal Rundle critic, says of Aledda's charges.

The difference between Aledda's case and the hundreds of others closed by Rundle's office without charges in the past two decades, says her spokesperson Ed Griffith, was the evidence. In Aledda's case, prosecutors believed "there exists sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt," he says. "This is the standard required by the prosecutorial code of ethics for all filed criminal cases."

Before Rundle took office, cops were charged at a semiregular clip in Dade County. Most officers weren't convicted, however, and the last case, in 1989, was a major blow to prosecutors. That year, Officer William Lozano was convicted of manslaughter after killing two black men on a motorcycle with a single gunshot. But Lozano walked free after he was granted a new trial.

Lozano's case spooked prosecutors statewide, critics say. (The assistant state attorney who tried the Lozano case, Don Horn, is still with Rundle's office and is now in charge of prosecuting Aledda.)

According to Griffith, this is the first time in 24 years that Rundle's office has deemed a cop shooting airtight enough to take it to a jury. The timing, however, is notable.

The Aledda decision comes as Rundle's office faces a national wave of criticism after it declined to prosecute four state prison guards who kept Darren Rainey, a black schizophrenic inmate, in a scalding-hot shower for close to two hours until he died. Despite the fact that multiple witnesses said they heard Rainey screaming, nurses said skin was burnt off his body, and multiple prison employees alleged that a coverup was afoot, Rundle's office declined to charge the four guards last month. The decision resulted in scorn and condemnation from the criminal justice community — and even violent threats to Rundle, according to sources in her office.

But Rainey aside, there is a long list of Miami cops who've killed people in egregious fashion yet walked. Perhaps the most egregious case is that of the Redland shootings, in which a group of Miami-Dade cops conducted ambush-style raids on suspected drug criminals and then executed them while being filmed by surveillance cameras. A 2011 New Times investigation revealed the raid killed seven people, including a man who was working hard to turn his life around, another who was simply a petty car thief, and a third who was a former police informant.

In 2014, Rundle's office released some of the case's video evidence and announced that redacted clips showed cops killing multiple people as they surrendered with their hands in the air. Prosecutors from her office wrote that they believed the cops involved had lied to investigators and that multiple killings were not justified.

Yet Rundle's office concluded it could not charge the cops involved with any crimes. Mere months later, the county was forced to pay a $1.3 million civil settlement to the families of the victims after the cops were not able to justify why they'd shot those people.

A more recent shooting, in December 2015, adds to the confusion and inconsistency from Rundle's office. That month, a Miami Beach Police Officer shot a man armed with a small razor blade just as one of the cop's colleagues was about to taser the suspect. Some have speculated the shooting was an accident, but departmental procedure dictates that cops should keep their fingers outside their guns' trigger guards unless they're ready to shoot. The officer has not been charged with a crime despite the fact that the incident was remarkably similar to Kinsey's shooting and ended in death.

The list continues from there. In the past decade alone, an unarmed man was shot in the back. A teen was tasered to death for spraying graffiti. A nonviolent homeless man was killed. Cops falsified police reports. A woman was beaten up by a cop on camera.

And Rundle has been operating this way since taking over for Janet Reno in 1993. Granted, no cop anywhere in Florida was charged between 1989 and 2016, but that doesn't excuse any single prosecutor for that gap in enforcement.

Critics such as Corben say Rundle's office owes the public more information. Does she truly believe there's been only one unjustified police shooting in Miami during the last quarter-century? If not, what caused such an obvious about-face in the Aledda case? Has the prosecutor herself undergone a change of heart, or is this simply some sort of makeup after critics cranked up the heat after the Rainey case?

Griffith, her spokesman, did not address those specific questions.

Time will tell whether Rundle is really making a sea change after 24 years atop Miami's criminal-justice ecosystem. One pending case could act as a bellwether: Javier Ortiz, an active cop who serves as the City of Miami Police union president, is sitting on desk duty after a judge placed a temporary restraining order on him. The woman who asked for the order, Claudia Castillo, only did so after Ortiz doxed her by publishing her private phone number and personal details online. The evidence appears to show that Ortiz, one of the most powerful cops in the county, potentially broke the state's misdemeanor cyberstalking law.

Will Rundle act?

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