Officer charged with manslaughter in Castile killing


Following the Nov. 16 announcement that St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez would be charged with second-degree manslaughter for killing Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, people massed at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, where Castile worked, to mark the news.

Men with signs at J.J. Hill Montessori – according to the criminal complaint filed against police officer Jeronimo Yanez, Philando Castile was shot dead in his car by Yanez roughly a minute after Yanez pulled him over.

In a Nov. 16 press conference, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced that St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez is facing three criminal charges for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile in July.

County attorney: Officer's fear for life not justification for deadly force

A St. Anthony police officer's fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July has been deemed "not justified" by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. 

The officer in question, Jeronimo Yanez, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Choi characterized it as the "highest provable charge."

Choi announced his decision at a Wednesday, Nov. 16, press conference saying Yanez's stated fear for his life during the stop was unreasonable and not justification for the use of deadly force. Yanez's first appearance in Ramsey County District Court is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 18.

Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was shot and killed July 6 in Falcon Heights, which contracts for police services from nearby St. Anthony Village. 

 

No grand jury

After a months-long investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and ongoing protests against the police killing, the case was forwarded to Choi for review for possible charges in September. 

Choi's announcement came a year and a day after Jamar Clark, a young African-American man, was killed by Minneapolis police in another high-profile case that raised concerns nationally of racial bias in policing. The police officers involved in Clark's killing were not charged.

In the past, Choi has referenced Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman's review of the evidence in the Jamar Clark case, stating he was looking at it for guidance. Neither Choi nor Freeman opted to take the cases to a grand jury.

The St. Anthony Police Department initially declined to comment following Choi's decision, deferring to a city statement that came later.

"We have confidence that justice will be served," the St. Anthony Village statement reads. "Out of respect for the judicial process, the city intends to refrain from making any comments that could hinder a fair and impartial determination.  We reaffirm our commitment to help heal this painful community experience through community engagement and continuous efforts to create positive change."

Falcon Heights has been under continual calls to cancel its policing contract with St. Anthony. Mayor Peter Lindstrom could not be immediately reached for comment, though Falcon Heights issued a statement an hour after Choi's press conference.

The statement said the city respects Choi's decision to charge Yanez, and it will continue to work on the issues raised by the killing of Castile, who was a popular cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul. 

"Our goals are to unify our community around a plan to address the concerns we have heard since this tragic incident, and to work to restore trust between law enforcement officers, and the residents and city visitors whom they serve."

 

What wasn't on Facebook

Yanez shot Castille after he was pulled over in his car on Larpenteur Avenue near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car, accounting for the two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

After Yanez shot Castile seven times, Reynolds took out her phone to live stream the proceedings onto Facebook. The video went viral and in a matter of hours was viewed on screens across the nation, leading to protests and demonstrations in the name of justice for black men killed by police.

On Nov. 16, Choi discussed what the video did not show -- what happened beforehand -- as seen and heard on police dashboard camera video and audio. He said the video will not yet be released to the public because the investigation into the killing is ongoing.

According to the criminal complaint against Yanez that was released along with Choi's decision to charge, Yanez stated his intent to pull over Castile's car just after 9 p.m. July 6, stating the occupants of the car "just look like the people that were involved in a robbery." 

Days prior, on July 2, the Super USA convenience store in Lauderdale, just down the street from where Yanez initially spotted Castile's vehicle, was the scene of an armed robbery. Yanez can be heard on a radio recording saying of Castile, "the driver looks more like one of our suspects just because of the wide-set nose." 

He then stated a reason for the stop -- a non-working brake light -- and waited for a back-up officer, Joseph Kauser, to arrive before approaching the vehicle. 

During that time, Yanez ran Castile's licence plate and the results showed the vehicle was registered to Castile, that it was not listed as stolen, and that there were no warrants out for Castile's arrest.

 

'I wasn't reaching for it'

According to the complaint, Yanez did not notify dispatchers that he was conducting the stop, nor that he suspected the driver was a suspect in the recent robbery. 

Castile pulled his car to the curb at 9:05 p.m., just a few seconds after Yanez activated his emergency lights.

"As he walked toward the vehicle, Yanez had his right hand on the right side of his duty belt near his gun," the complaint states, while "Castile was buckled in his seat belt." 

Yanez then informed Castile of the broken brake light and Kauser approached on the sidewalk near the passenger door of the vehicle. 

The complaint says that Yanez asked for Castile's license and proof of insurance, which Castile then provided. 

It was then that Castile informed Yanez of a firearm that he had on him -- Choi said Castile had a conceal-and-carry license in his wallet at the time he was killed. 

"Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me," Castile said, according to the complaint.

The complaint said that Yanez interrupted Castile with "OK," and placed his hand on his gun holster at the same time.

Yanez told Castile "don't reach for it then," to which Castile replied that he was not. The two exchanged nearly identical remarks back and forth, with Reynolds also asserting that her boyfriend was indeed not reaching for his gun. 

The exchange escalated until Yanez drew his gun and fired seven times in rapid succession into the car -- the backseat of which was occupied by Reynold's young child. 

According to the complaint the last shot was fired just after 9:06 p.m. -- just about a minute after Castile pulled his car over. 

Choi said Castile's gun was later found in his foot-deep shorts pocket, loaded, but without a bullet in the chamber. 

Reynolds yelled, "You just killed my boyfriend," and at which point Castile moaned his final words: "I wasn't reaching for it." 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

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