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Protesters of Castile shooting largely cleared from freeway

Posted June 17

FILE - In this July 25, 2016, file photo, a memorial including a photo of Philando Castile adorns the gate to the governor's residence in St. Paul, Minn., protesting the July 6, 2016 shooting death of Castile by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez. Closing arguments began Monday, June 12, 2017 in in a Yanez' manslaughter trial in the fatal shooting of Castile.(AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

— A Minnesota police officer was cleared Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a black motorist whose death captured national attention when his girlfriend streamed the grim aftermath on Facebook.

Castile's family stormed out of the courtroom after the verdict was read, and the city of St. Anthony swiftly announced plans to dismiss Officer Jeronimo Yanez, despite his acquittal. Yanez was charged with manslaughter in the death of Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria worker, during a July 6 traffic stop that turned deadly seconds after Castile alerted the officer that he was carrying a gun. Castile had a permit for the weapon.

"The fact in this matter is that my son was murdered, and I'll continue to say murdered, because where in this planet (can you) tell the truth, and you be honest, and you still be murdered by the police of Minnesota," his mother, Valerie Castile, said, referring to the fact that her son was shot after he volunteered to Yanez, "Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me."

"He didn't deserve to die the way he did," Philando Castile's sister, Allysza, said, through tears. "I will never have faith in the system."

Thousands of people gathered Friday evening at the nearby state Capitol to protest the verdict, and began a march that organizers said was headed for the St. Paul Cathedral. The mixed-race crowd, including many people with children, carried signs that read "Unite for Philando" and "Corrupt systems only corrupt."

The protest was peaceful as darkness fell, but a smaller group splintered off and walked down an entrance ramp to block Interstate 94, quickly snarling traffic and leading to the freeway's shutdown in both directions. A police line confronted marchers down the highway, but after a standoff of more than 90 minutes, the group dwindled and appeared to largely clear the interstate without police using force.

Jurors deliberated for about 29 hours over five days before reaching the verdict. Prosecutors argued that Yanez had overreacted and that Castile, a school cafeteria worker, was not a threat. Yanez, who is Latino, testified that 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.

Yanez stared ahead with no reaction as the verdict was read. Afterward, one of his attorneys, Tom Kelly, said the defense was "satisfied" and "felt all along his conduct was justified."

"However that doesn't take away from the tragedy of the event," Kelly added.

City officials in St. Anthony said they would offer Yanez a "voluntary separation" because they had concluded "the public will be best served" if he is no longer an officer there.

Prosecutor John Choi, who made the decision to charge Yanez, said he knows the acquittal is painful for many people, but that the verdict "must be respected."

"I don't doubt that Officer Yanez is a decent person, but he made a horrible mistake from our perspective, and that's what this case was about," Choi said. "I know that if he could, he would take back what he did, and we all wish, and he would too, that this never happened."

Castile's shooting was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S. The livestreaming of its aftermath by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her then-4-year-old daughter, attracted even more attention. Castile's family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities.

Gov. Mark Dayton offered his condolences to Castile's family after the verdict, calling his death "a terrible tragedy" in a statement that made no mention of Yanez. Dayton, a Democrat, drew criticism in the days after the shooting for suggesting that Castile might not have been shot if he was white.

The evidence included squad car video, but its wide view didn't capture exactly what happened inside the car — leaving jurors to essentially decide whether they believed Yanez when he said Castile had his hand on the gun. Prosecutors questioned whether Yanez had even seen it, and witnesses testified that it was in a pocket of Castile's shorts when paramedics pulled him from the car.

Juror Dennis Ploussard said the jury was split 10-2 early this week in favor of acquittal. They spent a lot of time dissecting the "culpable negligence" requirement for conviction, and the last two holdouts eventually agreed Friday on acquittal. He declined to say whether he thought Yanez acted appropriately, but said the jury sympathizes with the Castile family.

"We struggled with it. I struggled with it. It was very, very hard," Ploussard said, adding that he thought the jury delivered the right verdict.

He would not identify the two early holdouts, but said they were not the jury's only two black members. The rest of the jurors were white. None was Latino.

Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines suggested around four years would have been more likely. Yanez was also cleared of lesser counts related to endangering Castile's girlfriend and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.

Yanez testified that he stopped Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights because he thought he 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 reason to pull him over, several experts testified.

The squad car video shows Yanez approaching Castile's car and asking for a driver's license and proof of insurance. Castile appears to give something to Yanez through the driver's side window. Castile then informs the officer he's carrying a weapon, but before he finishes his sentence, Yanez has his hand on his own gun and is pulling it out of the holster. There is shouting, and Yanez screams, "Don't pull it out!" before he fires seven shots into the car, five of which hit Castile. Prosecutors say Castile's last words were: "I wasn't reaching for it."

After shooting Castile, Yanez is heard on the squad car video telling a supervisor that he didn't know where Castile's gun was, then that he told Castile to get his hand off it. Yanez testified that he meant that he didn't see the gun at first, then saw it in Castile's "right thigh area." He said Castile ignored his commands to stop pulling it out of his pocket. Yanez's voice choked with emotion as he talked of being "scared to death" and thinking of his wife and baby daughter in the split-second before he fired.

Prosecutors argued that Yanez could have taken lesser steps, such as asking to see Castile's hands or asking where the gun was.

Reynolds testified that she began recording the shooting's aftermath because she feared for her life and wanted to make sure the truth was known. Defense attorneys pointed to inconsistencies in several of her statements.

7 Comments

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  • Ken Ackerman Jun 17, 9:31 a.m.
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    I'd say that makes you a white male just like me. The last time I was pulled over was in 1986 for an expired license plate.

    There are at least two sides to every issue. I think in this case there needs to be a lot more positive proactive two-way communication between the police and the citizens they are hired to protect.

    Perhaps station officers in certain areas (I know this is done in some jurisdictions), not to arrest people but to get to know them and for the citizens to get to know the officers. Perhaps, start a program where citizens ride along with police officers, not to check on them, but to help each group better understand the perspective of the other.

  • Jeff Freuler Jun 17, 7:30 a.m.
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    So you automatically ASSUME and think the issue is with the officer. Very typical.

    Why don't you go get involved with your local law enforcement and do some riding with them to see how it is. I'm sure your thoughts would change

  • John Archer Jun 16, 11:03 p.m.
    user avatar

    Mr. Castile had been pulled over by police while driving over 40 times. He was 32. How many times have you been pulled over? I'm 61, and I have NEVER been stopped by a police officer. The officer said he "looked" like a robbery suspect. Something stinks here.

  • Linda Tally Jun 16, 10:53 p.m.
    user avatar

    There has to be an upgrade in the hiring requirements for officers of the law. Being at the mercy of an armed individual (the officer) who is burdened with a certainty that any word you say is an issued challenge and any move you make is a threat to his or her life is not good for anyone involved. The profile required by law enforcement departments needs to reflect this.

  • Rob Rad Jun 16, 10:13 p.m.
    user avatar

    This is a tragedy for all involved. I just don't understand how the girlfriend can sit there so calmly in her live Facebook feed. Help me understand her matter of fact demeanor.

  • Henry Cooper Jun 16, 5:46 p.m.
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    We will never know for sure on who is telling the truth since there is only one person left alive.

    Still kills me how many people portray weed like they are watching "Refer Madness". Come on just about all of us know people that smoke weed and it does not make them violent or aggressive, it makes the laugh and hungry. Aggression is not part of the profile of THC or the other canabaniods that are active ingredients.

    This is where our lack of biology and science in schools has failed us. Our lack of education allows the media to form our opinions because we are uneducated and lazy.

  • Jeff Freuler Jun 16, 5:22 p.m.
    user avatar

    Filming the aftermath doesn't do a thing for anyone.

    Sounds like the system worked and the jury delivered the right verdict.

    They deserve to be thanked for their service