Officer who fatally shot Philando Castile charged with manslaughter

By Mark Berman at Washington Post

Prosecutors in Minnesota said yesterday that they had charged the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop outside St Paul, with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting.

The shooting's aftermath was broadcast on Facebook Live by Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, footage that quickly spread across social media and cable news, becoming one of the most high-profile fatal police shootings during the protests that have emerged across the country in recent years.

Castile is one of at least 839 people fatally shot by police this year, according to a Washington Post database. While officers are rarely charged, that number has ticked up in recent years amid intense national scrutiny on how police use force, and video footage has increasingly emerged in deadly shootings.

But Castile's death in suburban Falcon Heights, Minnesota, drew particular attention because of Reynolds's role calmly documenting the aftermath and outlining what happened.

Video

"Stay with me," she said at one point in the video, even as Castile continued bleeding in the front seat.

John Choi, the Ramsey County attorney, said at a news conference in St. Paul, that Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Castile, would also be charged with endangering the lives of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter, who was also in the car.

According to the 10-page criminal complaint filed in Ramsey County District Court, Yanez, who said he feared for his life at the time of the shooting, could face up to 20 years in prison and up to $40,000 in fines.

The complaint states that Yanoz pulled over Castile, 32, after seeing him driving on the night of July 6 and declaring that he looked like a suspect in a convenience store robbery days earlier. Choi said today that Castile is not a suspect in the robbery.

Yanez pulled Castile over at 9.04pm, and less than a minute later, he began firing the first of seven fatal shots into the car.

Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, who filmed the fatal traffic stop, is consoled as she talks about the shooting. Photo / AP
Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, who filmed the fatal traffic stop, is consoled as she talks about the shooting. Photo / AP

Authorities said that they reviewed audio recordings from Yanez's squad car as well as video footage of the stop in determining the timeline. In the complaint, prosecutors say that Yanez approached Castile's car and told him about an issue with his car's brake light.

After Castile handed Yanez his insurance card, Castile then said: "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me." Yanez, before Castile finished the sentence, put his hand on his holstered gun and calmly replied "Okay," according to the complaint.

Seconds later, Yanez told Castile not to pull out his gun, to which Castile said, "I'm not pulling it out," and Reynolds echoed the same message, the complaint said. Yanez then screamed "Don't pull it out" before pulling his own gun out and firing seven shots at Castile.

The complaint then quotes Reynolds saying what was heard in the Facebook livestream that went viral after the shooting: "He killed my boyfriend."

Choi said that Yanez's use of deadly force was unjustified, noting that while Castile was armed at the time he was pulled over, he "never removed or tried to remove" the gun he had in his pocket. Castile's relatives were told of the decision to charge the officer on Tuesday night, Choi said.

Yanez and his partner, Officer Joseph Kauser, were both put on leave from the St. Anthony Police Department after the shooting. Kauser will not face any charges, Choi said, and the complaint states that he did not touch or remove his gun.

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, pictured in 2013, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Photo / AP
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, pictured in 2013, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. Photo / AP

Yanez will make his first court appearance tomorrow and plans to turn himself in, Choi said.

During a state investigation carried out by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which probed the shooting before handing its findings over to Choi's office, Yanez told officials that he thought he and others in the area faced mortal danger.

"At that point, I was scared and I was in fear for my life and my partner's life," he said, according to the complaint. "And for the little girl in the back and the front seat passenger."

Yanez said he believed Castile was putting his hand around something during the encounter.

The death of Castile, a well-liked cafeteria manager at a local school, came during a particularly fraught moment nationwide, one that saw a spate of shootings by and of police.

Castile was shot and killed after officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling. These two shootings set off a series of protests nationwide, and at one protest in Dallas a day after Castile's death, a lone gunman killed five police officers in an act of apparent retaliation, followed by another ambush that killed three officers in Baton Rouge later that month.

In another case that prompted protests, police in Minneapolis fatally shot Jamar Clark last November. Earlier this year, prosecutors said the officers involved would not face charges because they believed Clark was trying to grab one of their guns.

A review by the Minneapolis Star Tribune conducted last year found that at least 143 people have been killed by police in Minnesota since 2000, and no officers were charged in any of these deaths until that point.

- Washington Post

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