Police unions are paid to defend cops who find themselves ensnared in legal trouble. That's the basic reason those unions exist. But there's a bit of a difference between providing legal support to a cop accused of shooting an innocent man and what Dade County Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera did last week.
In an April 13 letter New Times obtained, Rivera referred to Jonathan Aledda, the North Miami cop who was charged with attempted manslaughter last week after he shot the unarmed, innocent Charles Kinsey last July, as a "hero." He also called Aledda's arrest "horrific," "malicious," and orchestrated by "cowards."
"Throughout my career, I have seen many gross miscarriages of justice come out of the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, but seldom one as gross and disgusting as the recent arrest of one of our own, fellow North Miami police officer, Jonathon Aledda," Rivera wrote, including the bold text and misspelling of Aledda's first name. "And, all for purely self-serving, political BS reasons."
Infamously, Rivera told the media in the days after the shooting that Aledda had fired at Kinsey and 27-year-old autistic man Arnaldo Rios-Soto because Aledda thought Rios-Soto had a gun. But reams of evidence, including the official police-radio audio from the shooting, show cops were warned multiple times that Rios-Soto did not have a gun before Aledda decided to shoot at him. (He hit Kinsey in the leg instead.)
The evidence, which the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office released last week, proved Rivera was either misinformed or lying to the public when he spoke in front of the media last year.
The Dade County PBA did not respond to a phone call from New Times this afternoon.
Hilariously, the letter attempts to pin the so-called miscarriage of justice on Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. The county's top prosecutor has received a smorgasbord of criticism for neglecting to charge cops who kill on the job — but in his letter, Rivera tried to paint her as "chomping at the bit" to arrest cops regardless of their guilt or innocence.
Before Aledda's case, Rundle's office had not charged a single cop for an on-duty shooting since she took office in 1993. In her 24 years running Miami's criminal justice system, she has still not charged a cop for killing someone illegally despite evidence suggesting this has happened numerous times during her tenure.
"The State Attorney's weak strength of character has allowed the arrest of heroes, all while career criminals regularly get off with a nolle prosse [no charges] or disgustingly low plea offers," he wrote. "That being said, what happened to Officer Aledda can easily happen to anyone [sic] of us who is out there simply doing our job and trying to protect this community."
However, black-rights activists across the nation said the shooting did not show officers acting in their community's best interests. Instead, those groups say the incident shows clear racism on the part of North Miami cops. After a 911 caller told police that Rios-Soto "might" have had a weapon, the cops arrived and immediately pointed their guns at Kinsey and Rios-Soto. Kinsey was filmed lying on his back with his hands in the air while begging cops not to shoot him. Black activists have asked whether cops would have drawn their guns on Kinsey had he been white.
In addition to claims of racial bias, evidence shows Aledda disobeyed orders when he pulled the trigger. According to testimony from other cops, police had deduced that Kinsey and his patient were not dangerous and had ordered officers to stand by and not fire their guns. Two cops close to Kinsey and Rios-Soto said they were ready to walk up to the pair when Aledda fired randomly and without warning from more than 150 feet away.
In his letter, Rivera dismissed people critical of Aledda as "cowards," members of the media hunting for ratings, and "Monday-morning quarterbacks who wouldn't know police work if it bit them in the rear."
In a second letter New Times obtained, issued April 14, Rivera wrote to embattled North Miami City Manager Larry Spring and strongly hinted that the city ought to fire Police Chief Gary Eugene. Earlier this month, New Times published audio from Eugene's interview with Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigators. In that interview, the chief described a department in disarray, with untrained officers who are so consumed by hatred for one another that Eugene said he was worried some cops wouldn't provide backup for others.
He also accused one former assistant chief, Larry Juriga, of framing a cop he did not like and trying to get the officer fired; said cops wanted a police commander to lie to investigators to protect Aledda; and said Spring, the city manager, had pressured him to suspend a second cop, Commander Emile Hollant, even though the department knew Hollant was innocent.
"On behalf of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association as the bargaining representative for the City of North Miami police officers and sergeants," Rivera said, "I write to express our complete disgust with the false, irresponsible and defamatory statements made by current Police Chief Gary Eugene during a statement as part of the July 2016 police-involved shooting investigation, which was released by the media last week."
(In the letter, Rivera repeatedly misspelled Spring's last name as "Springs.")
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Rivera stressed that North Miami PD is staffed with "hard-working" and "dedicated" officers and claimed no cops "compromised their integrity" during or after the Kinsey shooting. Rivera also accused the chief of trying to pin blame on others for the shooting, and said the comments were "demoralizing and not representative of a leader that the men and women in the police department can respect."
He then hinted that Eugene should be fired.
"We trust the City will give the PBA's position outlined in this letter the appropriate consideration in any future decision to retain or replace the chief of police," Rivera wrote.