ST. PAUL, Minnesota — A Minnesota cop whose fatal shooting of a black motorist triggered off protests across the country amid a national debate on racial profiling and the use of force by police, has been charged with manslaughter.
Prosecutors said they could find “no justification for the use of deadly force” by St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez in the July traffic stop shooting of school cafeteria worker Philando Castile.
“No reasonable officer who knew, saw, and heard what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.
Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Court documents showed that Yanez had pulled the 32-year-old Castile, over at 9:05 p.m. on July 9 because he believed he resembled a suspect from a gas station robbery a few days earlier because of his “wide-set nose” and was driving with a broken tail light.
Within a minute of the traffic stop, Yanez fired seven shots into Castile’s car, killing him as his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter watched. The girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, then broadcast a Facebook Live video showing Castile bleeding to death in the car which was viewed millions of times around the world.
“I was worried that charges were not going to be brought against him just because of the simple fact that he is a police officer,” Reynolds told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “This is only the first step. We are looking for conviction.”
According to the criminal complaint, the traffic stop began taking an ominous turn when Castile informed the officer that he was carrying a gun, which he had a license for. Yanez then put his hand and his holstered weapon and told Castile not to pull his weapon out.
“I’m not pulling it out,” Castile said, the complaint read, citing an audio recording captured by Yanez’s dashboard camera.
“He’s not pulling it out,” Reynolds said.
“Yanez screamed, ‘Don’t pull it out’ and quickly pulled his own gun with his right hand while he reached inside the driver’s side window with his left hand,” and then fired seven shots into the car, the complaint read.
Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
Officer Joseph Kauser, who had also responded to the scene and was standing on the other side of the vehicle, said he didn’t see Castile making any sudden or threatening gesture and was surprised that Yanez had opened fire.
Yanez told investigators he became nervous when Castile began reaching between the car’s center console after stating he had a weapon, and opened fire because he thought he was in danger.
Choi said prosecutors had determined that Yanez’s use of force was not reasonable and also endangered Reynolds and her daughter, who was strapped into a car seat on the rear passenger side of the vehicle. One of the shots went through Castile’s seat and into the rear driver’s side seat and another into the car’s center console, the complaint said.
“There was absolutely no criminal intent exhibited by [Castile] throughout this encounter,” Choi said. “He was respectful and compliant based upon the instructions and orders he was given.”