It would be hours before 60-year-old Gladys Soto learned the truth: Her son, Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, had wandered away from his North Miami group home. His behavior aide, a man Rios loved, had been shot by police as he desperately tried to warn them that Rios had autism, was not a danger to anyone, and was wielding a toy truck, not a gun. As Charles Kinsey lay on the ground, hands raised above him in a sign of abject submission, a bullet from a police sniper pierced his leg.
Rios, 26, was diagnosed with a complex and disabling form of autism as a small child. He is largely non-verbal, though he can use a handful of words — “police” and “blood” and “hate” are among them. He’s big and he’s tall, and all that bigness can be a danger when Rios loses his temper.
On Monday, Rios decided to remain home from a day program he usually attends. Kinsey stayed home, too, to supervise him. When Rios left the group home — his toy truck, which he clings to for comfort, in his hand — Kinsey followed him. “We can’t prevent people from going out the door; they have rights,” said MACtown’s director, Clinton Bower. “All we can do is try to ensure their safety.”
After Kinsey was shot, the caregiver was rolled onto his belly and handcuffed — an image that badly exacerbated the public relations nightmare North Miami police faced. But Rios, too, was treated like a criminal, said both his mother and Bower.
For at least three hours, the young man remained handcuffed in the back of a police squad car. Soto’s church friend begged officers to see Rios, as did Bower. But officers kept Rios under wraps until about 9 p.m., Bower said.
Police told Bower that Rios “was acting loopy,” Bower said, adding Rios kept talking about Disney characters. “They clearly couldn’t see he was a person with autism, or another disability.”
Dietz, the family’s lawyer, said Rios’ three hours in a police car might have been nearly as traumatic as the shooting. “This is a person who calms himself by slapping his hands and rocking,” Dietz said. But he could do nothing as waves of anxiety cascaded over him in police custody.