At the center of the furor over the fatal shooting of Philando Castile are allegations of racial profiling in traffic stops, that police are targeting black people behind the wheel.
Newly released data show the two St. Anthony police officers who pulled Castile over last month are not the department’s top traffic enforcers.
The data also don’t suggest that officers Jeronimo Yanez and Joseph Kauser are giving tickets and warnings to black drivers at extremely disproportionate rates, although the lack of race data on a significant proportion of tickets makes it impossible to draw firm conclusions.
During a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6, Yanez shot and killed Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school food service worker. Castile’s death, which his girlfriend live-streamed, attracted international attention and triggered weeks of demonstrations. Yanez and Kauser were placed on leave as the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates the shooting.
The “ticket” data the city of St. Anthony recently released includes 7,385 citations and warnings, some only verbal, that its police officers recorded from the start of 2014 through late July 2016 in the three small suburbs they patrol: St. Anthony, Lauderdale and Falcon Heights.
Yanez issued 437 tickets, ranking fifth in the department. Kauser ranked seventh with 355 tickets. The department’s No. 1 enforcer, officer Jeremy Sroga, doled out the 1,188 tickets in the 2 1/2 year span.
Since about 20 percent of the tickets don’t indicate race — prosecutors don’t require race for all levels of offenses — and the demographics of motorists in the area aren’t known, it is not possible to draw conclusions about racial profiling.
Yanez’s track record looks similar to his colleagues’ in terms of the proportion of tickets going to black and minority drivers.
About 18 percent of the drivers Yanez ticketed were black, slightly below the department average of 23 percent. Nearly one-quarter of Yanez’s tickets don’t indicate race.
About 23 percent of the drivers Kauser ticketed were black. About 9 percent of Kauser’s tickets don’t indicate race.
Overall, about 16 percent of the drivers ticketed by all officers on Larpenteur were black.
Hennepin and Ramsey counties are each about 12 percent black, the U.S. Census shows, while blacks make up about 6 percent of the combined populations of St. Anthony, Falcon Heights and Lauderdale.
In police scanner audio from minutes preceding the Castile’s stop, an unidentified officer announces he was pulling over Castile’s car on Larpenteur Avenue to check if the driver could be the suspect in a robbery of a convenience store.
According to Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, they were pulled over for a broken light. She said Castile informed the officer that he was licensed to carry a firearm, and that Yanez shot Castile as Castile reached for his ID, as instructed.
A lawyer for Yanez has said the officer was reacting to the presence of a gun.
Chief denies profiling
In an e-mail response to questions, St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth denied that his officers engage in racial profiling.
“We have an amazing team of dedicated law enforcement professionals who are focused on keeping people in all three communities safe by following the procedures, rules, training, and other protocols spelled out by the State of Minnesota’s license requirement,” he said.
The lack of data of who’s on the roads “is extremely important, considering there are a significant number of people who move through these communities on a daily basis who are not residents of St. Anthony, Falcon Heights or Lauderdale,” Mangseth said. “Without this data, it is extremely difficult to reach any data-supported conclusions related to arrests and citations.”
The race of a driver is only required on misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor and felony citations, Mangseth said, and not on petty misdemeanor citations or warnings.
Officers are instructed not to ask drivers for their race. Since driver’s licenses don’t note race, officers are expected to use their best judgment to determine it.
Verbal warnings don’t require documentation, although officers are encouraged to document them.
As for Sroga’s load of tickets, Mangseth said the officer spends extra time on traffic enforcement to slow traffic in the community and reduce crashes. He primarily works days, when traffic is heaviest.
The new ticket numbers did little to change one driver’s perception that racial profiling is rampant on Larpenteur.
John Thompson, who repairs food service equipment for St. Paul Public Schools and knew Castile, said he avoids that stretch of Larpenteur unless he’s driving his St. Paul Public Schools van.
“You can ask 100 black men the same question,” Thompson said in an interview, echoing comments he made at a Falcon Heights City Council listening session shortly after Castile’s death. “They know better than to drive that stretch of Larpenteur. Chances are very high that you’re going to get pulled over.”
Thompson said he suspects the traffic tickets don’t reflect stops that police don’t document.
For instance, he said, last year he was driving home to St. Paul on Larpenteur in his GMC Savana conversion van. He said an officer pulled him over after seeing a TV playing in the back of the van.
Thompson said his children were in the back watching a movie.
The officer “stuck his head in the car” and let him go, he said.
“It’s a part of life for us,” Thompson said. “That’s sad.”
Data editor MaryJo Webster contributed to this report.