ST. PAUL, Minn. — A Minnesota police officer was found not guilty Friday of manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile, a black motorist whose girlfriend streamed the aftermath live on Facebook.
Jeronimo Yanez was also cleared of two lesser charges in the July traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb. The jury of seven men and five women deliberated for a bit more than four days before reaching a verdict in the death of Castile, who was shot just seconds after informing Yanez that he was carrying a gun.
Family members and supporters of Castile left the courtroom in tears. Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, yelled an expletive the moment the verdict was read.
Defense attorney Earl Gray, meanwhile, rubbed the shoulder of Yanez. Raguse described the scene as extremely emotional.
Outside the courthouse, Valerie Castile said Yanez got away with “murder,” noting that her son was wearing a seatbelt and in a car with his girlfriend and her then-4-year-old daughter when he was shot.
“I will continue to say murder,” she said. “I am so very, very, very … disappointed in the system here in the state of Minnesota. Nowhere in the world do you die from being honest and telling the truth.”
“He didn’t deserve to die the way he did,” Philando Castile’s sister, Allysza, said, through tears. “I will never have faith in the system.”
Yanez, who is Latino, testified that Castile was pulling his gun out of his pocket despite his commands not to do so. The defense also argued Castile was high on marijuana and said that affected his actions.
Yanez stared ahead with no reaction as the verdict was read. Afterward, one of his attorneys, Tom Kelly, said the defense was “satisfied.”
“We were confident in our client. We felt all along his conduct was justified. However that doesn’t take away from the tragedy of the event,” Kelly said.
Prosecutors declined to comment.
Castile had a permit for the weapon, and prosecutors questioned whether Yanez ever saw it. They argued that the officer overreacted and that Castile was not a threat.
Castile was killed the night of July 6 during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The St. Anthony department contracts with Falcon Heights to provide police protection. Yanez said he pulled Castile over because of a broken tail light on his car, but radio transmissions later revealed that the officer thought Castile resembled a suspect in the robbery of a convenience store just days earlier.
Yanez approached the window of Castile’s car, had a brief verbal interaction, then fired seven shots in a matter of seconds, fatally wounding Castile with two shots to the heart. Bullets fired by the officer came within inches of Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, in the passenger seat and Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter in the back seat.
Following a four-month investigation of the shooting, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged Yanez with manslaughter, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Choi said under Minnesota law, as written, the deadly use of force in Castile's death was not justified.
"I have given Officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for," Choi told reporters.
The trial of Yanez began during the last week of May, with prosecutors maintaining that Yanez failed to use correct protocol, such as ordering Castile to put his hands on the steering wheel after being informed the motorist was carrying a permitted gun, and then panicked when he thought Castile was reaching for it.
“Officer Yanez used deadly force as a first option rather than a last resort," Ramsey County Assistant Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen told the jury during closing arguments.
The Yanez defense team steadfastly maintained that the officer clearly saw a gun in Castile’s pocket, felt he was reaching for it and feared his life was in danger when he discharged his weapon, a decision supported by two use of force experts and Yanez’s chief, all who testified in the two-week trial.
Attorney Earl Gray also hammered away at alleged drug use by Castile and his girlfriend, telling jurors that Castile’s being high contributed to his failure to follow Yanez’s commands.
“Drugs and guns don’t mix,” Gray said during closing arguments.
Castile’s shooting was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S., and the livestreaming of its aftermath by Diamond Reynolds attracted even more attention. The public outcry included protests in Minnesota that shut down highways and surrounded the governor’s mansion. Castile’s family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton also weighed in, saying he did not think the shooting would have happened if Castile had been white.
In another development Friday, the city of St. Anthony announced on its website that Yanez is no longer employed by the city as a police officer. The decision was announced in a brief press release.
Contributing: The Associated Press