An investigation into the shooting of an unarmed black man as he lay on the ground with his hands in the air is being undertaken by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, North Miami’s police chief said on Thursday.
A cell phone video showed behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey with his hands extended above his chest moments before a bullet struck his leg. The shooting occurred in North Miami while Kinsey was trying to get an autistic man back to a nearby group home from which he had wandered.
Kinsey works at the home, which is operated by the Miami Achievement Center for the Developmentally Disabled.
Kinsey’s lawyer Hilton Napoleon of the firm Rasco Klock Perez & Nieto in Coral Gables, Florida, sent the video to Reuters on Thursday. Napoleon did not provide information about who had taken the video. Requests for interviews with Kinsey and his attorney were not immediately answered.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Thursday the Justice Department was gathering information about the incident, the latest in a series of controversial shootings of black men by police in the United States.
Kinsey told Miami’s WSVN-TV that he was trying to calm the autistic patient when police showed up on Monday evening. Media reports have said Kinsey is 47 years old.
Kinsey said he dropped to the ground and lay on his back with his hands up and open to comply with commands from the police officers.
“As long as I’ve got my hands up, they’re not going to shoot me. This is what I’m thinking,” Kinsey said in an interview with WSVN-TV from his hospital bed on Wednesday. “Wow, was I wrong.”
Kinsey said he kept his hands up throughout the incident and that he asked the officer, “Sir, why did you shoot me?”
“He said, ‘I don’t know.'”
Police said in a statement that the officers were responding to a 911 call about an armed man threatening suicide. They said the officer, who has not been identified, is on administrative leave according to standard procedures.
The shooting itself was not recorded, but in the video, which has been widely circulated on social media, Kinsey can be heard talking to his patient and police while lying flat in the street.
“All he has is a toy trunk in his hands … I am a behavior therapist at a group home,” Kinsey yelled in the video. He also urged his patient, who was sitting nearby, to lie down and be still.
The autistic man told him to “shut up” and did not comply.
The United States has seen demonstrations from coast to coast over the use of excessive force by police, especially toward black men.
Videos in the past year of some shootings or their aftermath in cities like North Charleston, South Carolina; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, have led to heightened calls for oversight of police.
The Baton Rouge and St. Paul shootings of black men were followed by attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge in which eight officers were killed.
Police in North Miami have offered few details about the incident. Chief Eugene told reporters that officers responded to the scene with the threat of a gun in mind, but no gun was recovered.
“There are many questions about what happened on Monday night,” he said. “I assure you we will get all the answers.”
Eugene said the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would lead the investigation at his request. The agency will not comment on the shooting, spokeswoman Molly Best said.
Gabriel Pendas, 33, a lone protester outside the police station on Thursday held a sign that read, “STOP shooting black people.”
“The guy was just there doing his job,” Pendas said.