Case of officer who killed Philando Castile to proceed to trial


Jeronimo Yanez

Philando Castile

Despite defense attorneys’ efforts last week to have a judge dismiss the criminal charges against their client, St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, for the shooting death of Philando Castile, the criminal case will move forward to trial.

Yanez faces charges of second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who filed the charges last November after the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension headed a months-long investigation into the July 6 killing of Castile in Falcon Heights, characterized the charges as the “highest provable.”

On Feb. 15, both defense and prosecuting attorneys appeared in court to present their arguments for and against dismissing the case to Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III.

The defense specifically wanted the charges dropped because they said Castile, pulled over by Yanez while driving home from the grocery store, was at fault for allegedly being high on marijuana and disobeying the officer’s orders.

After hearing from both sides, Leary said he would announce his decision later that afternoon, and as indicated, he filed his decision later that Wednesday, ruling the case will proceed to trial.

He noted the defense attorneys used the argument that Castile’s behavior justified Yanez’s actions — shooting his handgun seven times into Castile’s vehicle, killing Castile inside the car that was also occupied by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter.

Leary said in a statement that any alleged behavior by Castile wouldn’t necessarily clear Yanez of those actions. He added “a victim’s unreasonable conduct is never an absolute defense to a criminal charge.”

The day prior to the court appearance, Yanez’s attorneys claimed again that their client saw Castile reach for a gun, and that the officer acted within his rights as a police officer to shoot because he feared for his life.

Prosecutors, however, are convinced that Castile, who was legally carrying a gun at the time he was killed, was just reaching for his wallet after Yanez asked for his license during the traffic stop on Larpenteur Avenue.

In the statement, Leary said the prosecutor’s interpretation of the case’s evidence could be enough for a jury to find Yanez guilty.

An omnibus hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27. Earl Gray, one of Yanez’s three lawyers, said in a statement that Yanez would plead not guilty.

 

Background

Yanez shot Castile after he was pulled over in his car on Larpenteur Avenue near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds last summer.

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 and was viewed on screens across the nation, leading to protests and demonstrations in the name of justice for black men killed by police.

According to the criminal complaint against Yanez that was released along with Choi’s Nov. 16 decision to charge him, the officer stated his intent to pull over Castile’s car just after 9 p.m. that day, 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 license 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 says 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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