BCA releases dashcam video, other evidence from Yanez probe
Day 14: Jury finds Yanez not guilty on all counts
Friday, June 16, 2017
Updated 5 p.m. | Posted 12:05 a.m.
Jon Collins and Riham Feshir | MPR News
St. Paul -- Jurors on Friday found St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez not guilty on all counts tied to Yanez's shooting and killing motorist Philando Castile during a July traffic stop.
Yanez had faced charges of second-degree manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm, both felonies, in the shooting death of Castile, 32. He was the first Minnesota law enforcement officer to be charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing a citizen in the line of duty.
The shooting set off protests and accusations of police brutality and racial injustice across the Twin Cities. Gov. Mark Dayton said after that incident that Castile, who was African-American, would likely not have been shot that night had he been white.
The case was even more gripping because Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was in the car at the time and livestreamed the bloody aftermath on Facebook as Castile lay dying, while Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter sat in the back seat.
The video and other evidence led Ramsey County Attorney John Choi to charge Yanez, a decision that came eight months after Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to bring charges against Minneapolis police officers for shooting and killing a black man, Jamar Clark, during a November 2015 confrontation.
Minnesota law justifies the use of deadly force by a police officer only when it's necessary to protect the officer or others from great bodily harm or death, and Yanez's use of force was not justified, Choi said in November.
Yanez's trial began with jury selection on May 30, and moved into jury deliberations on Monday. The officer told the court that he was forced to shoot Castile after pulling him over on a Falcon Heights street because Castile was not complying with the officer's commands and was reaching for a gun. Yanez had previously testified he’d stopped Castile because the driver resembled a suspect in a local convenience store robbery.
Shortly after the verdict was read on Friday, the city of St. Anthony said it's concluded that Yanez should no longer be part of the department. The city said it expects to offer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement with terms to be negotiated.
Testimony during the trial centered on whether Yanez's response to use deadly force was warranted given the situation and given that Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor, had told the officer at the start that he was carrying a firearm.
Yanez testified that Castile had started to pull the gun out of his pants, enough so that he could see part of the slide of the gun.
"I didn't want to shoot Mr. Castile at all," Yanez said when he took the stand. "I thought I was going to die," he said, adding that images of his family rushed into his mind. "I had no other choice."
Prosecutors, however, said Yanez, 29, never saw Castile’s gun, never told officers who responded to the scene or to his police dispatcher that there was a gun and shot recklessly, killing Castile. In the video Reynolds shot of the aftermath, a gravely wounded Castile can be heard saying, "I wasn't reaching for it."
Exactly where the gun was and when became a crucial question. A Roseville police officer who came to the scene said the gun slid out of Castile's shorts pocket as Castile, gravely wounded, was being loaded onto backboard. A St. Paul paramedic testified that he saw an officer pat down Castile, then saw him reach "deep" into Castile's shorts pocket to remove the gun.
Prosecutors during the trial argued that Yanez's early statements after he shot Castile show the officer was nervous -- and never saw Castile's gun.
"Yanez was the only one in this entire case who says Castile pulled a gun from his pocket,” prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said last week, adding that Yanez was to blame for the incident and was "not the victim ... Everyone on both sides of this case agrees," Paulsen argued, "that being nervous is not a reason to shoot and kill someone."
Castile, he added, "did what he was supposed to do" in courteously disclosing that he had a gun. Castile had no reason to pull a gun, Paulsen said, adding that he was "just a man driving home from the grocery store with his family."
The jury consisted of seven men and five women. Ten appeared white. One woman and one man were black. After hours of deliberation, jurors had indicated earlier in the week that they were deadlocked on a verdict. Judge William Leary pressed jurors to keep working.
After the verdict came down just before 3 p.m., Castile's family ripped the outcome as unjust and racially tinged.
"My son was murdered," Valerie Castile, Philando's mother, told reporters afterward, her voice choked with emotion. "Where on this planet do you tell the truth and be honest and still be murdered by the police in Minnesota ... nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth."
The judicial system continues "to fail black people" she said. "When they get done with us, they're coming for you, for you and all your interracial children. You all are next and you'll be standing up here fighting for justice just as well as I am."
Jurors leaving the Ramsey County Courthouse after the verdict declined to speak.
Yanez's defense team praised the jury's decision. Attorney Thomas Kelly said the case was litigated fairly, adding, "it's a tragedy all the way around."
Reynolds on Friday said Castile was not reaching for his gun but was instead trying to get driver's license to comply with Yanez's commands. "It is a sad state of affairs when this type of criminal conduct is condoned simply because Yanez is a policeman," she wrote, adding, "God help America."
After the verdict was read, Dayton issued a statement saying Castile's death "was a terrible tragedy, with devastating consequences for everyone involved. I will continue to do all I can to help our state heal."
Sean Gormley, executive director of Law Enforcement Labor Services, Minnesota's largest law enforcement union, said the group agreed with the verdict.
"Officer Yanez was forced to make an incredibly difficult decision on the evening of July 6th in a very short amount of time," he said in a statement. "He relied on his training and his experience to make that decision.For the family and friends of Philando Castile, we understand their lives have been changed forever."
Choi on Friday called Yanez a decent person who "made a horrible mistake ... Our position throughout this case was that Philando Castile did nothing that justified the taking of his life." Castile, he added, was respectfully responding to the officer's commands to retrieve his driver's license when he was shot.
He asked the public to respect the jury's decision and to stay peaceful "in the honor and memory" of Castile.
Choi asked for the community to pray for Castile's family, adding: "They have suffered so much."