Minnesota officer acquitted in fatal shooting of Philando Castile

Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti, Associated Press | 6/17/2017, 11:10 a.m.
Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop that was later ...

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota police officer was acquitted of manslaughter Friday in the fatal shooting of a black motorist who had informed the officer seconds earlier that he was carrying a gun.

Jeronimo Yanez was also cleared of two lesser charges in the July traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb. Yanez testified that Philando Castile was pulling his gun out of his pocket despite his commands not to do so. The defense also argued Castile was high on marijuana and said that affected his actions.

Castile had a permit for the weapon. Prosecutors questioned whether Yanez ever saw the gun. They argued that the officer overreacted and that Castile was not a threat.

The case garnered immediate attention because Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath live on Facebook.

Yanez, who is Latino, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines suggest around four years is more likely. He also faced two lesser counts of endangering Reynolds and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.

The jury got the case Monday, after just five days of testimony, evidence and arguments. The 12-member jury included two blacks. The rest were white. None was Latino.

Castile’s shooting was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S., and the livestreaming of its aftermath attracted even more attention. The public outcry included protests in Minnesota that shut down highways and surrounded the governor’s mansion. Castile’s family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton also weighed in, saying he did not think the shooting would have happened if Castile had been white.

Yanez testified that he stopped Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights because he thought the 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker looked like one of two men who had robbed a nearby convenience store a few days earlier. Castile’s car had a faulty brake light, giving the 29-year-old officer a legally sufficient pretext for pulling him over, several experts testified.

Squad-car video played repeatedly for the jury shows a wide view of the traffic stop and the shooting, with the camera pointed toward Castile’s car. While it captures what was said between the two men and shows Yanez firing into the vehicle, it does not show what happened inside the car or what Yanez might have seen.

The video shows the situation escalated quickly, with Yanez shooting Castile just seconds after Castile volunteered, “Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.” Five of the officer’s seven shots struck Castile. Witnesses testified that the gun was in a pocket of Castile’s shorts when paramedics removed him from his vehicle.

Prosecutors called several witnesses to try to show that Yanez never saw the gun and acted recklessly and unreasonably. But defense attorneys called their own witnesses to back up Yanez’s claim that he saw Castile pulling the gun and that Yanez was right to shoot.