Attorneys defending officer Jeronimo Yanez in the death of Philando Castile continued Thursday to shift responsibility for the shooting onto Castile, calling witnesses who said Castile made several missteps during the traffic stop.
The defense’s use-of-force expert testified that after reviewing evidence in the case, he believes Yanez saw a gun in Castile’s hand and responded as a reasonable officer should.
“He had to react to the actions of Mr. Castile,” said Joseph Dutton, a retired Mound and Golden Valley police officer. “He reacted according to police procedure.”
Yanez’s defense first laid the groundwork for its theory that Castile made mistakes from the start. They questioned James Diehl about a class he taught civilians seeking a permit to carry a handgun. Castile attended Diehl’s class and obtained a permit.
When Yanez pulled him over last July, Castile voluntarily told Yanez he had a gun and was shot five seconds later.
“Mentioning you have a firearm before you mention a permit to carry could change the officer’s attitude,” Diehl said.
“It could lead to chaos?” asked defense attorney Paul Engh.
“Correct,” Diehl testified.
Students were taught to put their hands on the steering wheel “at all times unless directed by the officer,” tell the officer they have a permit, tell the officer they have a gun and reveal the gun’s location, Diehl said.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen noted during cross-examination that Minnesota law does not require permit holders to disclose the presence of a permit or gun.
“He was going above and beyond what the law required him to do?” Paulsen asked.
“Correct,” Diehl said.
Yanez told investigators that he fired seven times at Castile after Castile ignored orders (“…don’t reach for it…”) and moved his right hand toward his right thigh. Prosecutors maintain that Castile was following Yanez’s first order to retrieve his driver’s license.
Castile’s gun was later recovered from his right front shorts pocket.
Yanez, 29, is expected to testify on his own behalf Friday. He is charged in Ramsey County with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm for killing Castile, 32, during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter, then 4, were also in the car.
Training and tactics
Prosecutors tried to show over three days of testimony that Yanez racially profiled Castile by linking him to an armed robbery suspect based on little physical resemblance, and failed to follow his training and common police protocol before and after the shooting.
St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth was among the first to testify on the defense’s behalf, calling Yanez “one of two or three” of the best community representatives for his department. However, he did not comment on Yanez’s actions, as he had not viewed dashcam video of the shooting.
Mangseth told Engh, the defense attorney, that a key police tenet is, “Be safe, and make sure you go home at the end of your shift, along with your partner.”
Engh asked Mangseth about his department’s de-escalation training. He then followed up: Is de-escalation always possible?
“Someone pulls a gun on you, you don’t pull a knife,” Mangseth said.
The defense’s attempt to argue that only Yanez’s training was relevant, not that of other officers, began to falter when Mangseth testified about St. Anthony’s training and policies.
Paulsen asked Mangseth if using a firearm should be an officer’s “last resort.”
Mangseth said that is the department’s policy.
Should officers ask to see a driver’s hands and ask about the whereabouts of any firearms in a vehicle, Paulsen asked. Yanez did not issue such orders.
Yes, the chief answered.
Does St. Anthony teach its officers to communicate with each other while out on calls, Paulsen asked, referencing evidence that Yanez did not inform his partner or responding officers about Castile’s gun.
“When practical,” Mangseth said.
Paulsen asked if officers conducting a traffic stop should stand at the “B pillar” of a vehicle, the juncture of the driver’s door and back passenger door, to address the driver.
“That’s just standard operating procedure, isn’t it?” Paulsen asked.
“In training, yes,” Mangseth said.
Yanez stood next to Castile’s window. The prosecution’s use-of-force expert, Jeffrey Noble, a retired Irvine, Calif., deputy police chief, testified Wednesday that positioning at the pillar provides officers time and space to react to possible danger.
Attorneys previously agreed not to address the levels of THC, the chemical compound in marijuana, found in Castile’s blood, but later changed course. The matter was debated when defense toxicologist Glenn Hardin took the witness stand.
Hardin, a former forensic scientist and supervisor at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said that Castile likely smoked marijuana about two hours before he was killed. Hardin testified that Castile was high during his exchange with Yanez, a key element to the defense’s theory that Castile was too stoned to follow orders.
Paulsen pushed back, citing scholarly articles that said using post-mortem blood samples to measure THC are unreliable because THC can be stored in fat for long periods, and redistributes after death.
“What happens is that THC leaches in unpredictable ways into the bloodstream?” after death, Paulsen asked.
“I don’t know if I would characterize it as unpredictable,” Hardin said. “A post-mortem sample is not as reliable as a sample taken from a living person.”
“Did you say that in your report?” Paulsen asked.
“I didn’t say it explicitly,” Hardin answered.
Paulsen also questioned the thoroughness of Dutton’s report, asking him why he didn’t include statements made by Reynolds and Castile as Castile was dying that he wasn’t reaching for his gun.
“You only put half the facts in your report,” Paulsen said.
“I put the relevant facts” into it, Dutton said.