ST. PAUL, Minn. - A Ramsey County jury has found St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez NOT GUILTY of manslaughter in the shooting death of motorist Philando Castile.
The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for a bit more than four days before reaching a decision. Yanez was facing one charge of manslaughter, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
KARE 11's Lou Raguse reports that the family of Philando Castile and supporters left the courtroom in tears, visibly sobbing. Castile's mother yelled an expletive the moment the verdict was read. Defense attorney Earl Gray rubbed the shoulder of Yanez. Raguse described the scene as extremely emotional.
In another development, the city of St. Anthony announced on its website that Yanez is no longer employed by the city as a police officer. The decision was announced in a brief press release.
The City of St. Anthony has concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city. The city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer. The terms of this agreement will be negotiated in the near future, so details are not available at this time. In the meantime, Officer Yanez will not return to active duty.
Castile was killed the night of July 6, 2016 during a traffic stop in the community of Falcon Heights, Minn. The St. Anthony department contracts with Falcon Heights to provide police protection. Yanez said he pulled Castile over because of a broken tail light on his car, but radio transmissions later revealed that the officer thought Castile resembled a suspect in the robbery of the Super USA convenience store just days earlier.
What is indisputable is that Yanez approached the window of Castile’s car, had a brief verbal interaction, then fired seven shots in a matter of seconds, fatally wounding Castile with two shots to the heart. Bullets fired by the officer came within inches of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, in the passenger seat and Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.
Following a four-month investigation of the fatal officer-involved shooting, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged Yanez with manslaughter in the death of Castile, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for the exposure of Reynolds and her daughter to the gunfire. Choi said under Minnesota law, as written, the deadly use of force in Castile's death was not justified.
"I have given Officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for," Choi told reporters.
Choi said second-degree manslaughter, which involves "gross negligence and an element of recklessness," is the most appropriate and provable charge in these circumstances. Choi announced he will hold a brief news conference on his reaction to the verdict. That is scheduled to start at 5 p.m.
The trial of Yanez began during the last week of May, with prosecutors maintaining that Yanez failed to use correct protocol, such as ordering Castile to put his hands on the steering wheel after being informed the motorist was carrying a permitted gun, and then panicked when he thought Castile was reaching for it.
“Officer Yanez used deadly force as a first option rather than a last resort," Ramsey County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen told the jury during closing arguments.
The Yanez defense team steadfastly maintained that the officer clearly saw a gun in Castile’s pocket, felt he was reaching for it and feared his life was in danger when he discharged his weapon, a decision supported by two use of force experts and Yanez’s chief, all who testified in the two-week trial.
Attorney Earl Gray also hammered away at alleged drug use by Castile and his girlfriend, telling jurors that Castile’s being high contributed to his failure to follow Yanez’s commands.
“Drugs and guns don’t mix,” Gray said during closing arguments.