A Hennepin County judge expects to approve Valerie Castile's proposal that she receive all of the $3 million settlement in her son Philando Castile's death after attorneys are paid.
The matter of who is entitled to the money was heard by District Judge Susan Robiner Wednesday in an at-times emotional hearing where Castile's mother and sister testified.
"I just want to start by offering my condolences," Robiner said.
"I appreciate that," said Valerie Castile. "Thank you so very much."
The hourlong hearing ended with Robiner saying she would likely grant Valerie Castile's proposal but would take the matter under advisement and issue an official decision "promptly."
Robiner also said that although she was "impressed" with objections to the proposal filed by Castile's father, Phelix Frazier Sr., he did not qualify for any of the money. Frazier, who is serving life in federal prison and has been incarcerated for more than 20 years, wrote a letter to the court requesting $500,000.
"Mr. Frazier's objection was, I thought, sweet," Robiner said. "I think that he's struggling with his own losses that are personal to him, and I thought that he articulated his concerns well without being overly strident."
Valerie Castile reached a $2.995 million settlement in June with the city of St. Anthony for the 2016 fatal shooting of her son by one of its then-officers, Jeronimo Yanez. Attorney fees will cost $995,000, leaving $2 million for distribution.
Valerie Castile's attorney, Robert Bennett, contacted 16 of Castile's relatives asking if they wanted to make a claim on any of the money. Only Frazier wrote back, saying in a July 5 letter that Valerie Castile deserved credit for raising their son. He did not say whether he wanted any of the money, but Bennett wrote in court documents that Frazier and none of the relatives asked for money.
When notice was sent out that Valerie Castile then proposed that she alone receive the $2 million, Frazier wrote a second letter from a federal penitentiary in Greenville, Ill., disputing claims that he hadn't communicated with his son. No one else filed an objection with the court.
"I was totally blindsided by [Valerie Castile's] lack of compassion for both me and her own daughter, Alysza [sic], and the decision to award herself the entire settlement," said Frazier, who was convicted of running a large-scale drug trafficking ring.
The distribution plan written by Bennett said that Frazier focused on his four children in St. Louis, Mo., and did not reveal to them until "very recently" that he was also Castile's father. Castile also has a half-sibling on his mother's side, Allysza Castile.
The plan also said that Allysza Castile, 24, was not fit to receive any of the money due to "elements" of her life that "are not conducive to her receipt of a large sum of money at this time." She signed a consent form agreeing to her mother's plan, but Robiner questioned her closely at the hearing to determine if she understood its legal significance.
Robiner said Allysza Castile was a strong candidate for some of the money, and that her life expectancy compared to her mother's would typically be a factor the courts consider in deciding a proportionate distribution of funds.
"Your mother's account about [Allysza Castile] are real and feel authentic, but I'm not supposed to take that into account," the judge said.
Allysza Castile confirmed that she had read her mother's proposal.
"I trust my mom," she said before breaking down in tears. "They've always taken care of me. I don't feel I need anything distributed to me."
Allysza Castile told Robiner that her mother and brother had always looked after her emotionally and financially.
"It's always just been me, my mom and my brother," she said.
"She has done right by you your whole life, and my guess is she'll do right by you until she takes her last breath," Robiner said.
"Yes," Allysza Castile said.
Valerie Castile declined to comment after the hearing.
A news release in June announcing the settlement said Valerie Castile plans to use some of the funds to support the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, which was established to help other victims of gun violence.
Bennett said she is committed to the foundation, which is awaiting recognition by the IRS as an official nonprofit. He noted that she has helped the family of Justine Damond, an unarmed woman who was fatally shot by Minneapolis police in July. Bennett is also representing Damond's family.
"She walks the walk, not just talks the talk," Bennett said.
Yanez was acquitted June 16 of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm for fatally shooting Castile, 32, during a July 6, 2016, traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4, were also in the car.