St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez faces three criminal charges for the killing of Philando Castile, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Wednesday.
Choi said it was his conclusion that “use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified.” Yanez was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
Castile, 32, was fatally shot July 6 by Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. A video recorded by his girlfriend, showing him bleeding in the car while the officer held them at gunpoint, has been viewed millions of times around the world, and touched off widespread outrage and protests over several years of police killings of black men.
Before Yanez, no officer had been charged in more than 150 police-involved deaths in Minnesota since 2000. Yanez was summoned to make his first appearance in Ramsey County court at 1:30 Friday.
Choi said the charges were filed following 19 weeks of investigation and a review of the dash cam footage and audio footage taken during the shooting.
During a news conference Wednesday, Choi said that Yanez and his partner, Joseph Kauser, pulled Castile over the night of July 6 because he matched the description of a robbery suspect, and noted his “wide-set nose.”
Castile immediately complied with the stop, Choi said. Dashcam video and audio captured the next “critical minute,” Choi said.
Yanez said he was aware that Castile was buckled in his seatbelt. He described Castile as initially having his left arm over the steering wheel with both hands in view. Yanez and Castile exchanged greetings, and Yanez told him about a broken brake light. Yanez asked Castile to produce his driver’s license and proof of insurance. After Castile provided him with the insurance, “Castile then calmly and in a non-threatening manner said, ‘Sir, I do have to tell you that I have a firearm on me,’ ” Choi said.
Yanez replied OK, then placed his hand on his gun, according to Choi.
Yanez said “Don’t reach for (the gun),” Choi said.
Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out.”
Yanez screamed “Don’t pull it out,” then with his left hand reached inside the vehicle. Yanez withdrew his hand, then fired seven shots in rapid succession.
The final shot was fired at 9:06 p.m.
Castile’s final words, Choi said, were “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
“His dying words were in protest that he wasn’t reaching for his gun,” Choi said. “There simply was no objective threat posed to Officer Yanez.”
Choi said the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension interviewed Yanez the day after the shooting., Yanez said that after Castile told him he had a gun, Castile blocked the view of his right hand with his shoulder while he was reaching down.
“At that point, Officer Yanez said he was scared for his life,” Choi said.
Choi’s office has been reviewing evidence in the shooting since Sept. 28, when the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension handed him its findings. Choi said Wednesday he chose to make the decision on charging himself, rather than turning the case over to a grand jury.
In explaining how Yanez’s actions did not meet the legal standard for justified use of deadly force, Choi said “it is not enough… to express subjective fear of death or great bodily harm.”
The charges come a year and a day after Minneapolis police fatally shot Jamar Clark, a case that Choi has used as guidance in his handling of the Castile shooting. Choi has noted that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman reviewed evidence in the Clark case for seven weeks before deciding that the officers should not be criminally charged in Clark’s death. Freeman did not take the Clark case to a grand jury, going against long-held practices in Minnesota.
Castile’s death further fueled activists’ call for reform in policing and for criminal charges against cops who kill. Activists said their numbers and movement have grown and strengthened in the year since Clark was killed, and hope that plays a role in changing the outcome of Castile’s shooting.
Several protesters rallied outside the Ramsey County Courthouse on Nov. 10 in support of Castile’s cousin, Louis B. Hunter, who was scheduled to appear in court that day for protesting on Interstate 94.
“The sense of community certainly hasn’t gone away,” said Eli Lartey, a 19-year-old activist who has been arrested multiple times at demonstrations, and who spoke at Hunter’s rally.
Protesters called for a dismissal of all felony charges against Hunter, who is accused of throwing rocks and construction debris at police officers during the July 9 protest that drew about 500 people on I-94. Dozens of other activists charged with lesser charges vowed not to settle their cases while Hunter remains charged.
Hunter said that although he feels authorities have done nothing to improve their policing and use-of-force in the last year, solidarity has grown among activists.
“I’m blessed to have people on the side with me,” Hunter said after he pleaded not guilty at his hearing. “They’re there for me.”
But Lartey and Hunter said there hasn’t been much trust built between activists and law enforcement.
“There’s almost this narrative of war between demonstrators and police,” said Lartey, whose name was specifically called out over a police megaphone during a different demonstration outside the Ramsey County courthouse earlier in the year. “Everything that happened with the Jamar Clark case seems to be happening with the Philando Castile case.
“I would say I have trust in the constituents’ ability to change [the criminal justice system] more than I did a year ago, but because of the way I’ve been treated and targeted as an activist, I have less trust in the police themselves.”
Pastor Danny Givens Jr., a clergy liaison with Black Lives Matter, and who rallied for Hunter and attended a memorial for Clark Wednesday, said a decision in the Castile case is a turning point in the fight for justice.
“I wouldn’t say [law enforcement and authorities] are listening more,” Givens said. “I would say they’re reacting more now. We hope the reactivity will create a platform where they listen … and we’re forcing that … after weeks and months of nonviolent demonstrations.
“The Castile decision is the bow of the boat of justice that we’re fighting for …”