A judge is expected to hear arguments Wednesday morning about whether the criminal case will continue to trial against St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in last year’s fatal shooting of Philando Castile.
Defense attorneys have said that charges against Yanez should be dropped because Castile put himself at risk by allegedly consuming marijuana and disobeying police orders, among other arguments. Prosecutors have pushed back, arguing that Yanez acted unreasonably when he fired on Castile seven times.
Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Rick Dusterhoft, the office’s criminal division director, previously said that District Judge William H. Leary III is expected to issue his decision on the matter the same day of the motion hearing. However, decisions are also sometimes issued at a later date.
Yanez, 28, was charged Nov. 16 with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for killing Castile, 32, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6, and endangering Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter, who were in the car at the time.
Some key disagreements between the defense and prosecution include: whether Yanez or Castile created the dangerous situation, whether or not Yanez saw a gun before he fired and why Yanez fired when his fellow officer, Joseph Kauser, did not.
Yanez’s attorneys, Thomas Kelly, Paul Engh and Earl Gray, filed a motion Dec. 14 to dismiss the case, arguing that Castile was negligent in his own death because he had created “unreasonable risk.” Autopsy results indicated that Castile had high levels of THC in his blood, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, and was “stoned” the day he was killed, the defense said.
“The status of being stoned (in an acute and chronic sense) explains why Mr. Castile, 1) did not follow the repeated directions of Officer Yanez; 2) stared straight ahead and avoided eye-contact; 3) never mentioned that he had a carry permit, but instead said he had a gun; and 4) did not show his hands,” the defense motion said.
Prosecutors Dustherhoft, Clayton Robinson and Jeffrey Paulsen filed their rebuttal on Jan. 18, arguing that evidence supports the criminal charges, and that Yanez created the danger.
The prosecution said Castile did not intend to harm Yanez and followed the officer’s orders. In addition, they said in their memo, Yanez was “unreasonable” in his belief that Castile matched an armed robbery suspect when he stopped Castile on Larpenteur Avenue for an apparent brake light problem.
“Although Castile was the same race as the robbery suspects, nothing else tied him to the robbery,” said the prosecution’s memo. “Castile did not attempt to flee and did not engage in any furtive movements when Defendant signaled him to stop … He volunteered to Defendant that he had a firearm in his possession, something an armed robber would be very unlikely to do.”
According to prosecutors: Castile’s hands were in full view when Yanez first approached the car. He followed Yanez’s orders by providing proof of insurance. Castile was reaching for his wallet to retrieve his driver’s license when he volunteered that he had a gun in his possession, Reynolds told authorities.
“… despite never seeing a gun, Defendant, without any warning, used deadly force against Castile …,” said the prosecution’s memo. “Defendant’s conduct also easily satisfies the subjective component of an actual conscious disregard of the risk created by his own conduct.”
The defense challenged the prosecution’s assertions in a memorandum filed Feb. 7.
“Officer Yanez indeed saw Castile’s gun,” the defense wrote. “In his formal statement, taken the next day, he describes what it looked like, the caliber, the color. The gun dropping out of Castile’s right pocket that night matched the description…”
“The gun was accessible, and Mr. Castile reached for it.”
Video of the incident does not support the prosecution’s argument that Yanez never saw a gun, defense attorneys wrote.
“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,” their February memo said.
Defense attorneys argued that Yanez exercised an “abundance of innocence” when he pulled over Castile for a brake light that was “burned out.” The defense said that issue “cannot be contested.”
Prosecutors have not said whether or not they believe the brake light was out. At a November news conference announcing the charges, County Attorney John Choi said that issue would be dealt with at trial.
Yanez also wanted to identify the driver in light of the recent armed robbery of a gas station, the defense said. (Prosecutors have said Castile was not involved in the robbery.)
Prosecutors have pitted Kauser, also a St. Anthony officer, against Yanez, noting that Kauser never touched his gun during the incident. Kauser, who had arrived as backup for Yanez, was on the sidewalk on the passenger side of Castile’s vehicle.
According to the criminal complaint filed against Yanez, the trouble started about 52 seconds into the traffic stop:
“Sir,” Castile said, “I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.”
Yanez replied, “OK,” and put his hand on his holstered gun.
“OK, don’t reach for it, then,” Yanez said.
Castile’s response was partly inaudible. Yanez interrupted him.
“Don’t pull it out,” Yanez said.
“I’m not pulling it out,” Castile said.
“He’s not pulling it out,” Reynolds said.
“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,” the charges said.
Yanez fired seven times.
Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
Kauser, who was cleared of any wrongdoing, told investigators that he was “absolutely” surprised when Yanez fired his weapon, according to the charges.
The defense argued that only Yanez’s perception of the events mattered, not Kauser’s or Reynold’s. Reynolds live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook, bringing worldwide attention to the case.
“What Officer Yanez alone saw was Mr. Castile reach into his right front shorts pocket, where the gun was,” said the defense’s February memo. “This explains why [Officer] Yanez shouted, ‘Don’t pull it out.’ Again, ‘Don’t pull it out.’ … He wasn’t talking about an inanimate wallet.”
“… Mr. Castile didn’t have to ‘pull the gun’ before Officer Yanez could take action, as the State has suggested,” the defense argued. “Had he waited, Officer Yanez believed he would be shot and killed.”
At the November news conference, Choi referred to interviews Yanez gave to authorities that prosecutors believe contradicted each other. The criminal complaint provides this summary of those interviews:
“And I don’t know where the gun was, he didn’t tell me where the [expletive] gun was and then it was just getting hinky, he gave, he was just staring ahead, and the I was getting [expletive] nervous, and then I told him, I know I [expletive] told him to get his [expletive] hand off his gun,” Yanez told a St. Anthony police officer minutes after the shooting.
In an interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension the next day, Yanez said that Castile had an object in his hand.
“But I, I know he had an object and it was dark,” Yanez said, according to the charges. “And he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out I, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die. And, I was scared because, I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do.”