BY MARTIN VASSOLO
MIAMI – Former North Miami Police officer Jonathon Aledda avoided a prison sentence Wednesday in the 2016 shooting of an unarmed Black man caring for an autistic man with a toy truck police said resembled a gun.
Aledda, who was fired Tuesday, was sentenced to one year of administrative probation, 100 hours of community service and must write a 2,500-word essay on communication and weapon discharges.
Judge Alan S. Fine also ruled to withhold adjudication in the case, meaning Aledda’s conviction will not appear on his criminal record.
Aledda celebrated the ruling with his former colleagues and his family, who flanked him inside the Miami courtroom. He smiled and hugged his supporters, some of whom became emotional.
“The people of Dade County should be proud of Jonathon and proud of this judge,” said Aledda defense attorney Jay Kolsky. “I thought that it was a well-thought-out decision by this judge, who heard both cases fully and knew the evidence and knew the facts very well.”
CONVICTED OF NEGLIGENCE
Aledda’s first trial in March ended in a hung jury when jurors failed to reach a decision on one misdemeanor count of culpable negligence and two felony counts of attempted manslaughter.
Last month, a jury convicted Aledda, 33, of misdemeanor culpable negligence for his role in the non-fatal shooting of Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist on July 18, 2016. The jury acquitted him of two felony counts of attempted manslaughter.
Aledda rejected a plea deal that called for no jail time, one year of probation and giving up his law-enforcement credential if he accepted the misdemeanor culpable negligence charge.
Aledda, a highly regarded officer within his department and a top performer at the police academy, responded to a call of a man attempting suicide with a gun. That turned out to be false.
What police found was Arnaldo Rios Soto, a then-26-year-old, sitting in the street with a silver toy truck. He had walked out of his group home in North Miami, and Kinsey followed him.
THREE ROUNDS FIRED
Kinsey, who was recorded by cellphone footage lying on the road with his arms up, attempted to tell police Rios Soto was not a threat. Aledda, who took cover 50 yards away, fired three rifle rounds at Rios Soto, but missed and struck Kinsey in his leg.
He said during trial that he believed Rios Soto had been holding Kinsey hostage. Prosecutors said Aledda acted recklessly and should have heard radio communication from another officer who had already determined the toy was not a weapon.
Don Horn, Miami-Dade County chief assistant state attorney, said before the sentencing Wednesday that Aledda demonstrated “grossly careless disregard” for public safety when he fired at Rios Soto.
“In a rush to judgment, officer Aledda decided he would fire,” Horn said. “No one else saw a need to do that.”
The shooting ignited controversy during a period of increased scrutiny on police amid high-profile — and bystander-recorded — shootings of Black men in other parts of the country, including Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota.
‘A BIG MISTAKE’
Aledda’s attorneys pushed back against the notion that race played a role in the shooting, and his father — Mark Aledda — contended that Aledda had been essentially deemed guilty before a trial could begin.
“My son was convicted by the media from day 1,” he said. “The incident had nothing to do with racism, nor is my son a rogue cop.”
Midway through his testimony to the court Wednesday, Mark Aledda turned to the prosecutors and apologized to Kinsey for his injury and the trauma that followed. But he said Aledda was a victim, too. Kinsey did not appear Wednesday, although prosecutors expected him to show up.
“I’m sorry for what happened to him,” he said. “It was a big mistake.”
One of Aledda’s former supervisors, Angel Rivera, spoke highly of the officer’s professionalism and positive attitude.
He said Aledda was named the top rookie cop by Miami-Dade County’s Police Benevolent Association and then became Miami-Dade County’s officer of the month. He routinely earned “outstanding” performance reviews and became a member of the SWAT team.
He called Aledda a “pious” person who would offer words of encouragement or Bible verses to colleagues.
“He was a great police officer,” he said.
Aledda had never fired his weapon in the line of duty before and was a first-time offender with no arrest record.
He is the first officer in Miami-Dade County to be criminally charged for an on-duty shooting since 1989.
Steadman Stahl, the president of Miami-Dade’s Police Benevolent Association, said Aledda should not have been fired from his job and that the PBA would petition for the termination to be reviewed.
“I think there was a rush to judgment,” he said.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.