In his five years with the St. Anthony Police Department, officer Jeronimo Yanez spent well over three months in training. Included in that time were 46 hours devoted to using force, another 36 hours on street survival and 20 hours on shooting his gun.
But he received just two hours of de-escalation training two months before his fatal encounter with Philando Castile on July 6, 2016.
Details of Yanez’s training were among a stockpile of evidence released Tuesday by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension after a Ramsey County jury found Yanez not guilty of manslaughter last week in Castile’s death.
Just over a minute passed from the time Yanez pulled Castile over to when he fired seven times into the vehicle. Yanez said he feared for his life when he thought Castile was reaching for a gun.
De-escalation training, say instructors, is meant to defuse tense encounters by slowing them down and giving officers more time to process a situation, hopefully leading to an outcome where no one gets hurt.
“Absolutely some [more] training would have helped ease things,” Derek Collins, a Georgia-based de-escalation trainer, said of the shooting.
Typically de-escalation is used to control suspect behavior, but in Yanez’s case, Collins said the officer was responsible for escalating the situation. Better training, he said, might have helped Yanez avoid that and given him more time to react. It took about six seconds from the time Castile said he was armed before Yanez started shooting. “He pulled out a gun and started shooting when he thought there was a dangerous situation that wasn’t,” Collins said.
Yanez’s lawyer, Tom Kelly, rejects that. He said Yanez tried to de-escalate the situation by giving verbal commands to Castile to not reach for his gun.
“He made the attempts at de-escalation he could within that time frame,” Kelly said.
Still, Kelly said the Yanez case should start a dialogue on whether the current training officers receive should be addressed. Minnesota peace officers are required to take 48 hours of continuing education every three years.
This year the Legislature passed a bill to triple state reimbursement for police training from $320 per officer to $1,000 that would begin in 2018 and require 16 hours of training in areas that would use de-escalation, said Nathan Gove, executive director of the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
St. Anthony began teaching its officers de-escalation in 2016, according to records obtained by the BCA during its investigation. St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth did not respond to an interview request. But during an interview with BCA investigators, Mangseth said the course was to teach officers how to de-escalate people in crisis. He said principles released in March 2016 by the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) and adopted by agencies across the country had already been used by St. Anthony. One of those principles is that the sanctity of human life should be at the heart of everything an agency does.
“It’s a tone carried in our policy and procedure,” Mangseth told investigators.
During another interview, St. Anthony police officer Jeremy Sroga said the department was looking at a full day of de-escalation training. He explained traditional de-escalation of reducing the amount of force used.
“Now I’ve hit somebody with my [baton]. And … the person’s compliant. They go into handcuffs and whatnot so I’ve de-escalated ... ,” he said. “They’re saying ‘I’m not gonna fight anymore. … Here are my hands.’ We get the control of them … so we need to de-escalate our force. That’s what we’ve traditionally taught.”
But PERF’s policy, Sroga told investigators, was to defuse a situation.
“We’re gonna try and buy time so we get other officers to come and help. ... So hopefully we won’t have to use, you know, whatever level of force, and we can minimize our use of force,” he said.
Sroga went over PERF’s principles as part of a PowerPoint presentation with Yanez and other St. Anthony officers as part of a Use of Force training on May 6. The new de-escalation policy, one of the slides reads, is “defusing a situation to lessen the likelihood that force will be needed.”
Not every situation can be de-escalated, said Larry Gordon, a Dallas police detective and instructor with Professional Law Enforcement Training.
Gordon watched the squad car dashcam video of the Castile shooting and acknowledged that because he couldn’t see what Yanez saw, he couldn’t rule for certain on the officer’s actions. Gordon acknowledged that officers who fear for their lives have to make split-second decisions. But it was concerning to him that Yanez began to draw his gun just after Castile told him he was carrying.
“You’re essentially starting that train downhill, getting the mind-set going to the point where you have to use deadly force,” he said. “I don’t understand why he was so in fear of his life and Castile was so polite in how he was talking to him.”
Gordon said Yanez could have done something that de-escalation teaches — giving him time and distance — by backing up, moving just behind Castile’s window.
But that’s not just de-escalating a situation. That’s also tactical, Gordon said.
“I just don’t think he was trained very well,” he said.