Attorneys representing officer Jeronimo Yanez said their client saw a gun the day he fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop, contradicting claims by prosecutors that he never saw the weapon and later provided conflicting statements about it.
In a memorandum filed Tuesday in Ramsey County District Court, defense attorneys also argued that “The gun was accessible, and Mr. Castile reached for it.”
“The State’s claims that [Officer] Yanez ‘never saw a gun’ … is not supported by the video and resulting facts,” said the memo. “The phrase the State quotes from Officer Yanez’s subsequent conversation at the scene — ‘I don’t know where the gun was’ — doesn’t prove the gun didn’t exist.”
Yanez, 28, a St. Anthony police officer, was charged Nov. 16 in Ramsey County with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm in the fatal shooting of Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6.
The defense filed a motion Dec. 14 to dismiss all charges against Yanez. Prosecutors responded in January, arguing that Yanez’s actions were “a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable officer would have observed.”
Defense attorneys Thomas Kelly, Paul Engh and Earl Gray wrote in Tuesday’s memo, a rebuttal to the state’s memo, that the day after the shooting, Yanez described the gun’s caliber and color, matching a gun that fell from Castile’s right pocket.
“The conduct of Officer Yanez was rooted in an abundance of innocence: His more than proper stop of the car; his approach to the driver’s side of the vehicle; his requests that Mr. Castile not reach for his gun. …” the defense memo said. “The shots he fired were intentional and justified.”
Yanez’s decision to stop Castile’s car on Larpenteur Avenue was valid because one of the brake lights was out, which the memo argued “cannot be contested,” and because the officer wanted to identify the driver in light of a recent robbery, the defense argued.
The prosecution had argued that, “Although Castile was the same race as the robbery suspects, nothing else tied him to the robbery.”
Only Yanez’s perception of the events that evening are relevant, the defense said, and not those of his fellow officer at the scene, Joseph Kauser, who did not discharge his gun, or Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the front passenger seat and live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook.
The memo also argued that whether or not Yanez created the risk and the need to use force, as the prosecution argued, is “irrelevant.” The defense continued to argue that Castile created the risk by having marijuana in his system and disobeying Yanez’s orders.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III is scheduled to hear oral arguments on the matter Feb. 15, and is expected to issue a decision that same day.