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Manslaughter Charge for Officer Who Killed Licensed-to-Carry Motorist

Friends and family follow the funeral procession for Philando Castile as it makes its way along Concordia Avenue to The Cathedral of Saint Paul on July 14, 2016, in St. Paul, Minn. (Elizabeth Flores/Star Tribune via AP)

The police officer who killed a Minnesota motorist after the man explained that he was licensed to carry and was reaching for his identification will face a second-degree manslaughter charge and two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon.

St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez is due for his first court appearance this Friday.

The immediate aftermath of the July 6 shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., was broadcast in a live Facebook feed by his fiancee, Diamond Reynolds. Their car had been pulled over for a broken taillight. Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter was in a carseat in the back. Castile, the cafeteria supervisor at a Montessori school, was licensed to carry and advised the officer he had a firearm. His only history with the law was misdemeanor traffic violations.

“After spending the past 19 weeks immersed in the facts and the law, and thinking about what justice requires in this case, my conscience tells me it would be wrong for me to ask a Grand Jury to make this decision when I know in my heart what needs to be done,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at a press conference today.

He stressed that the use of deadly force, as outlined by Minnesota law, “is justified only when necessary to protect the officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm.”

“To justify the use of deadly force, it is not enough, however, for the police officer to merely express a subjective fear of death or great bodily harm. Unreasonable fear cannot justify the use of deadly force. The use of deadly force must be objectively reasonable and necessary, given the totality of the circumstances,” he said. “Based upon our thorough and exhaustive review of the facts of this case, it is my conclusion that the use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified and that sufficient facts exist to prove this to be true.”

Choi said the video and audio of the shooting from Yanez’s car, which captured the entire incident, would not be released today because of the point in the investigation, but he gave a description of events from the criminal complaint.

Before Yanez first pulled over Castile, he told another officer summoned for backup that the car’s occupants “just look like the people that were involved in a robbery”; Yanez also said “the driver looks more like one of our suspects just because of the wide-set nose.” The officer followed the car for five minutes before pulling Castile over.

About one minute into the stop, Yanez shot Castile seven times.

“Yanez asked Castile to produce his driver’s license and proof of insurance. Castile first provided him with his insurance card. Castile then, calmly, and in a non-threatening manner, informed Officer Yanez, ‘sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me,'” Choi said. “Before Castile completed the sentence, Officer Yanez interrupted and calmly replied ‘okay’ and placed his right hand on the holster of his own, holstered, gun. Officer Yanez then said ‘okay, don’t reach for it, then.’”

“Castile tried to respond but was interrupted by Officer Yanez, who said ‘don’t pull it out.’ Castile responded ‘I’m not pulling it out,’ and Reynolds also responded by saying, ‘he’s not pulling it out.’ Then Officer 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. Officer Yanez pulled his left arm out of the car, then fired seven shots in rapid succession into the vehicle.”

Choi said that after the final shot, Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!”

“Philando Castile moaned and uttered his final words: ‘I wasn’t reaching for it,'” the county attorney continued. “To which Reynolds loudly said, ‘he wasn’t reaching for it.’ Before Reynolds completed her sentence, Officer Yanez again screamed ‘don’t pull it out!’ Reynolds responded by saying, ‘he wasn’t.'”

The other officer at the scene never unholstered his weapon, did not see any sudden movements from Castile and was surprised by Yanez’s gunfire, he added. That officer has been cleared of wrongdoing.

Yanez told the next officer to arrive on scene that “he did not know where the gun was and that Castile never told him where it was.”

“Based upon the evidence, we believe that Castile never removed, nor tried to remove, his handgun from his front right pocket, which was a foot deep. When officers and paramedics rolled Castile to his right side to put a backboard under him, they saw and removed a .40 caliber semiautomatic handgun from the front right pocket of his shorts. The gun contained a loaded magazine, but did not have a round in the chamber,” Choi said.

In Castile’s wallet were his driver’s license and permit to carry a gun.

Choi said Yanez made an inconsistent statement the next day to investigators, claiming Castile told him he had a firearm at the same time as “he reached down between his right leg, his right thigh area and the center console.”

“To those who may say that this incident was Philando Castile’s fault, I would submit that no reasonable officer – knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time – would have used deadly force under these circumstances,” Choi said. “As the United States Supreme Court has instructed, 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.”

“Philando Castile was not resisting or fleeing. There was absolutely no criminal intent exhibited by him throughout this encounter. He was respectful and compliant based upon the instructions and orders he was given. He volunteered in good faith that he had a firearm — beyond what the law requires. He emphatically stated that he wasn’t pulling it out. His movement was restricted by his own seat belt. He was accompanied, in his vehicle, by a woman and a young child. Philando Castile did not exhibit any intent, nor did he have any reason, to shoot Officer Yanez.”

The city of St. Anthony said in a statement on their website that they had seen the announcement that Yanez would be charged and “are unaware of any additional facts beyond those that have been publicly reported.”

“We have confidence that justice will be served. Out of respect for the judicial process, the City intends to refrain from making any comments that could hinder a fair and impartial determination,” the city said. “We reaffirm our commitment to help heal this painful community experience through community engagement and continuous efforts to create positive change.”

In August, St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth defended 28-year-old Officer Yanez, saying the cop showed “a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people.”

Yanez’s attorney, Thomas Kelly, said in July that “this had nothing to do with race — this had everything to do with the presence of a gun . . . and the display of that gun.” No response from Yanez’s lawyer had been issued today.