Tensions related to the prosecution of officer Jeronimo Yanez for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile continued to escalate Thursday as prosecutors filed a scathing response to defense attorneys’ attempts to seek reprieve in a higher court.
Yanez’s attorneys filed a writ of mandamus with the Minnesota Court of Appeals on Monday asking it to reverse a trial judge’s refusal to grant a change of venue. The Ramsey County attorney’s office pushed back Thursday against the uncommon filing, asking for a denial.
“Even putting aside his multiple mistakes and erroneous editorializing,” said the first sentence of the prosecution’s response, “Petitioner Jeronimo Yanez’s attack on the district court’s venue ruling is frivolous.”
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Thomas Ragatz, who wrote the request, immediately remarked in a footnote that the defense misspelled Castile’s first name as “Philado” on the first page of their document.
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, was charged Nov. 16 with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm in the killing of Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her then-4-year-old daughter were also in the car.
The tenor of the case was struck early when defense attorneys sought to dismiss all charges about four weeks after they were filed, delaying Yanez’s pleas in the case. He pleaded not guilty to all counts on Feb. 27 after Ramsey County District Judge William H. Leary III denied the dismissal.
In March, defense attorneys filed about a half-dozen motions in five days, among them a request that Leary move the trial to Brainerd, Duluth, Hastings or St. Cloud.
Although the case received widespread media attention, Leary denied the request, but said the issue could be revisited during jury selection for Yanez’s May 30 trial.
Ragatz criticized the defense for the venue request and challenged the defense survey of residents in other cities. Defense attorneys Paul Engh, Earl Gray and Thomas Kelly noted in their filing that “dozens” of residents in Brainerd were interviewed, and only 10 percent knew who Castile was. In Duluth, 60 people were interviewed and only 20 percent knew about the case.
“Yanez makes no argument that the people talked to … were a valid representative sample,” Ragatz wrote.
The last time a change of venue was granted in Minnesota was likely in 2014 in the 2015 trial of Brian Fitch, who was eventually convicted of killing Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick. Fitch’s attorney, Lauri Traub, commissioned a survey of 265 Dakota County residents showing that 91 percent knew about Patrick’s killing and 83 percent believed Fitch was “probably” or “definitely” guilty.