Mother Says North Miami Police Wrongly Arrested Her Autistic Son

(CN) – The mother of an autistic man involved in a highly publicized encounter with North Miami police claims in court the officers assaulted and falsely arrested her son despite his mental disability.

Arnaldo Rios-Soto, who was 27 at the time, had wandered away from his group home in July 2016 and was playing with a toy truck in the street when his therapist, Charles Kinsey, found him and began to try to coax him back home.

Several police officers converged on the scene and drew their guns, being unsure what Rios-Soto was holding in his hand. In a scene captured on a cellphone video that soon when viral, Kinsey raised his arms and said, “All he has is a toy truck. … I am a behavior tech at a group home. There’s no need for guns.” Despite this, one of the officers fired, striking Kinsey in the leg.

“Why did you shoot me?” Kinsey asked. The officer said, “I don’t know.”

Following the incident, Rio- Soto was held for over a month in a nearby psychiatric hospital and was eventually institutionalized.

In a complaint filed in Miami-Dade County on June 5, Rios-Soto’s mother, Gladys Soto, says that her son was living successfully at the Miami Achievement Center for the Developmentally Disabled, or MACtown, when the incident occurred, and that he had a good relationship with Kinsey, his behavioral therapist.

Soto says her son moved to MACtown to receive behavioral therapy to control his aggressive behavior and to aid him with his everyday needs. She also claims the city and North Miami police were well aware of MACtown, and had dealt with a number of its residents in various situations in the past.

“ … The staff and management at MACtown complained to North Miami officials, including its police chief, about the treatment of their residents when interacting with the police, but were ignored,” the complaint says.

Soto says that only July 18, 2016, her son took his medication but then became upset and stormed out of the group home. Kinsey followed, and a short time later, the incident with police transpired.

Soto says her son could not understand what was happening as the encounter with police unfolded.

She says that after Kinsey was wounded, her son stood and began to make “animalistic” and “weird” noises.

Eventually, an officer named Kevin Warren approached the two men and handcuffed them.

Rios-Soto was then searched, arrested and taken into custody even though there was no probable cause that he was guilty of any crime, the complaint says.

Soto says that Clint Bower, president and CEO of MACtown, arrived at the scene and attempted to take her son back to the group home, but the officers prevented him from doing so.

Rios-Soto was then transported to the North Miami Police Station without the consent of anyone related to him, the complaint says.

Soto claims that Detective Michael Gaudio and Officer Angel Requejado attempted to interrogate Rios-Soto for a few minutes at the police station until it became clear that he could not provide them with any statement.

“The sole purpose of Detective Gaudio and Officer Requejado was to interrogate a person who was knowingly legally mentally incompetent, autistic, and intellectually disabled, and to intimidate and coerce Rios-Soto to admit unlawful or threatening behavior,” the complaint says.

After the failed interrogation, Rios-Soto was taken back to the MACtown facilities by North Miami police officers.

When Rios-Soto arrived at his group home, he began to attack the staff and other residents and attempted to run away once again, the complaint says.

Rios-Soto could not be controlled and showed signs of major behavioral problems so he was taken to Aventura Hospital Psychiatric Ward for evaluation, where he remained for 34 days, his mother says.

“Due to his new and difficult behavioral issues as a result of the shooting, the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities did a behavioral assessment of Mr. Rios-Soto and derived a comprehensive behavioral plan,” the complaint says.

The only facility that could meet Rios-Soto’s needs was located in Ocala, Florida so his mother was forced to move there to be near her son.

Plaintiff Gladys Soto claims that her son was targeted by the police of North Miami because he was a “Hispanic man with a mental disability who was accompanied by a black man [Kinsey] who was wearing street clothes.”

Soto seeks compensatory damages on claims of battery, assault, false arrest, civil conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and violation of civil rights, the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act and the Fair Housing Act.

She is represented by Matthew from Disability Independence Group Inc. in Miami, Fla.

“The City of North Miami is aware of the federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Mr. Arnaldo Rios, who was present during the July 18, 2016, shooting of his mental health therapist, by a North Miami Police Officer. While the City of North Miami is aware of the complaint, we have not yet been served.  However, once we are served, comments will be limited due to ongoing litigation. Additionally, the City continues to actively investigate the shooting incident internally; and must therefore, remain sensitive to the right to due process afforded to all involved,” the city said in a written statement.

Eunicia Baker, a city spokeswoman, said the city did not have any  additional comments to add to those in the statement.

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