In July 2016, St. Anthony cop Jeronimo Yanez shot Philando Castile during what appeared to be (and was) a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting, and the chilling video went viral as she told the camera, “Police shot him for no apparent reason, no reason at all.” Yanez shouted and pointed a gun into the vehicle while Castile continued to heavily bleed, and he later passed away at a nearby hospital.
Yanez was subsequently charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm. He faced up to 20 years behind bars if convicted, but a jury has acquitted him on all charges. The New York Times reports that much of the defense’s case revolved around the uncertainty of what took place before the camera started rolling. It wasn’t disputed that Castile told Yanez that there was a gun in the car (and he held a license), but the crux of the case revolved around whether jurors believed that Yanez responded to what he perceived to be an imminent threat:
Mr. Castile was licensed to carry a gun and was recorded on a dashboard camera video calmly telling Officer Yanez that he had a weapon in the car. Officer Yanez told him not to reach for the weapon, and Mr. Castile and Ms. Reynolds both tried to assure the officer that he was not doing so. Within seconds, Officer Yanez fired seven shots. Prosecutors said Mr. Castile had mentioned his gun to allay concerns, not to threaten the officer or escalate the situation.
Earl Gray, a lawyer for Officer Yanez, said his client had to react quickly to what he believed was an imminent threat.
Previously, it was reported that Castile had only reached for his wallet because the officer needed to see his ID. The prosecution in this case asserted that Yanez “was making assumptions and jumping to conclusions,” whereas Yanez’ legal team contested that he believed Castile matched the description of a robbery suspect in the area (Yanez also said he smelled marijuana, which became a contested issue in the case regarding Castile’s own reactions).
This verdict follows up on two other high profile 2016 cases in which video footage of black men being shot and killed by law enforcement also went viral, which set off a summer full of protests amid heightened racial tensions. The outcome for these cases has, in critics’ eyes, reached a sadly inevitable conclusion. In May, Officer Betty Shelby was found not guilty of manslaughter after fatally shooting Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And in Baton Rouge, the Justice Department declined to bring charges against the officers who killed Alton Sterling, citing a lack of evidence.
Following the verdict, Philando’s name has volleyed to the top of the social media trending charts. People are vowing to never forget the name of the man who remembered all 500 names (and allergies) of the children he served every day in his school cafeteria.
(Via New York Times)