Days after Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the killing of Philando Castile, authorities released thousands of pages of investigative reports and dramatic dashcam footage showing how a routine traffic stop turned deadly in seconds.
It was the first view outside the courtroom of the footage of St. Anthony police officer Yanez firing seven shots into Castile’s car last year, killing him as viewers watched the aftermath on Facebook Live. The July 6 shooting thrust Minnesota into the national debate over police use of force and racial profiling.
Documents released Tuesday also revealed that Yanez couldn’t provide investigators with a detailed description of the driver of the car he pursued, thinking he resembled a suspect in a recent robbery.
Yanez spoke to investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) the day after the shooting, explaining that he pulled Castile over because of a nonworking brake light and in order to check whether he was one of two men from an armed robbery four days earlier.
He didn’t know whether Castile’s passenger, girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, was a man or a woman — only that the passenger wore a hat.
“I just knew that they were both African American, and the driver, uh, appeared to me that he appeared to match the, uh, physical description of the one of our suspects from the strong arm robbery, gunpoint,” Yanez said in the interview.
“What is that description?” asked BCA special agent Doug Henning.
“Um, it was a [sigh], I can’t remember the height, weight but I remember that it was, the male had dreadlocks around shoulder length,” Yanez said. “…And then just kind of distinct facial features with like a kind of like a wide-set nose.”
The audio recording of Yanez’s one-hour interview was never played by prosecutors during his three-week trial. Prosecutors sought to introduce it late in the trial, but the judge said no. Jurors requested the full BCA transcript of the interview during deliberations but were denied by the judge. The interview also showed that Yanez frequently mentioned smelling burnt marijuana in the car. The issue featured prominently in his defense at trial. Six seconds after Castile told Yanez he had a firearm, Yanez shot him. Castile’s permit to carry was later found in his wallet.
“I thought, I was gonna die,” Yanez later recounted about the moments leading up to the shooting, “and I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls [sic] was screaming.”
The video released by the BCA and the Ramsey County attorney’s office starts about 9:05 p.m. as Yanez activates his squad lights to pull Castile over on Larpenteur Avenue near Fry Street in Falcon Heights. A little over a minute later, Yanez fired seven bullets.
Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council, said the video could further damage community-police relations.
“No, no, no,” Terrill said minutes after viewing the video. “You don’t have to remain calm on this one. You have a right to be outraged. You have a right to be angry. And I would be disappointed if you weren’t outraged, if you weren’t angry. It raises the question — how will you ever get a guilty verdict?”
But some authorities cautioned viewers not to consider the video as a complete record of the events that night.
State Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, called it a “tough, tough video to watch.” Watching it, he said, “just reinforces the speed of the event.”
“It’s these very short but very clear verbal commands to not reach for it. And once you start down that path and the officer interprets noncompliance, it’s going to play out very, very quickly,” said Zerwas, a vocal advocate for law enforcement at the Capitol. “Looking at that video in context of all the information, you can see how the jury could reach that conclusion and understand why deliberations went on for all those days.”
Andy Skoogman, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said the video provides context “to an incredibly tragic story,” but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“We can’t see inside the vehicle and, most importantly, we can’t feel officer Yanez’s fear,” Skoogman said. “Obviously, no video can ever show the level of one’s fear, which is a purely subjective measure, differing from one person and one situation to the next. That’s what makes this case so difficult and open to such emotional debate.”
At a St. Paul community conversation set up in the wake of the verdict, 150 people gathered with counselors present. While the pain from the verdict was still fresh, they said, the video reopened wounds.
“I was thinking about that being me,” said Donte Curtis, 24, who cried when watching the video. “I was thinking about that being me.”
Among the data were more than 2,000 pages of documents, photos of Castile’s bloodied and bullet-riddled car and his autopsy, as well as interviews with Yanez, officer Joseph Kauser, his backup that night, and Reynolds.
Yanez met with two special agents from the BCA at 1:42 p.m. the day after the shooting, accompanied by two attorneys, Tom Kelly and Robert Fowler.
In the interview, Yanez said he was nearly three hours into his shift when he saw a white car pass and thought the driver appeared to match the description of one of the robbers.
When Yanez pulled the car over and approached, he smelled burnt marijuana, he told the agents. He didn’t tell this to the driver because, “I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner,” so he told Castile he had a nonworking brake light.
Yanez said Castile wouldn’t look him in the eye and was mumbling. He asked Castile for his license, and as Castile reached down he said he had a firearm, Yanez told the agents. Yanez said he repeatedly told him not to reach for the gun.
“It appeared to me that he had no regard to what I was saying. He didn’t care what I was saying. He still reached down.”
Yanez recalled that Castile kept his left hand on the steering wheel, and the placement of his shoulder blocked Yanez’s sightline to Castile’s right hand. It was at this time that he feared Castile may be reaching for the gun in his waistband or perhaps between the seats. He wondered if Castile may have kept the gun for protection from a drug dealer or someone trying to “rip” from him.
“And at that point I was scared and I was in fear for my life and my partner’s life,” he told the agents. He thought he saw Castile grab something and pull it away from his right thigh. “I know he had an object — and it was dark,” he said. He thought he saw a gun.
But in answer to a question about what he saw in Castile’s hands just after he was shot, Yanez said: “I don’t remember seeing anything in his hands.”
In her interview with BCA investigators, Reynolds described Yanez as “jittery” during the traffic stop. She said Castile was trying to retrieve his wallet from his back pocket to get his license.
“And he shot, pop, pop, pop, pop. And why did it take for that many times for him to shoot somebody?” Reynolds said. “Blatantly, in front of two women like that? For no apparent reason because he was havin’ hard times gettin’ to his license and registration.”
Reynolds told the investigators that marijuana was in Castile’s car, but that it was hers. She said Castile carried a gun to protect himself and his family. She also worried about investigators destroying evidence.
“They kill, he killed him. So now what? Where do we go from here? Because there’s gonna be lawsuits in order. There’s discrimination in, there’s racism. There’s a lot of things that’s gonna play now because of this.”
Toward the end of the interview, one of the BCA investigators informed Reynolds that Castile had died.
“He took him away from us,” she said, crying. “It’s not fair. It’s not fair.”
Staff writers Brandon Stahl and Sarah Jarvis contributed to this report.