Minn. Cop Wants Manslaughter Trial Moved

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The Minnesota police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer asked a state judge for a change of venue, arguing local media coverage of the case has turned prospective jurors against him.

Earl Gray, Thomas Kelly and Paul Engh – attorneys representing St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez – filed a 10-page memorandum Tuesday asking to move Yanez’s case out of Ramsey County District Court.

Yanez fatally shot Castile during a routine traffic stop in July 2016, and the aftermath of the incident was broadcast live on social media by Diamond Reynolds, a passenger in the vehicle with her 4-year-old child.

He was charged in November with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Ramsey County District Court Judge William Leary III denied Yanez’s motion to dismiss last month, and he has since pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial is currently scheduled for May 30.

Yanez says “slanted” media coverage has filled local newspapers and news stations since the shooting.

“The media coverage and protests have never suggested an iota of fault in Mr. Castile’s conduct,” his attorneys say. “That one-sidedness is ‘potentially prejudicial.’”

The memo further states, “The news stories were, in our reading, slanted against [Yanez], written and voiced on the air with nary a mention of due process, the presumption of innocence, the importance of a trial, the jury, or of what the defense will be. Instead, Mr. Castile’s death was more often than not, indeed instantly, categorized as one of perverse racial profiling.”

Yanez says the local press has been covering the case continuously for more than eight months.

He cited some headlines from local newspapers and news stations, including “St. Anthony Police Data Shows Disproportionate Arrests of Blacks,” “Cops and Racial Disparity: Is There a Double Standard?” and “St. Paul Officers Stop Black Motorists At Higher Rates Than Whites, Data Show.”

The memo also noted “outrageous” statements from various blog readers in the area, including one that allegedly said, “At this point, I could give a hoot about the civil rights of Yanez. He created a mess for the Twin Cities community.”

Yanez says Black Lives Matter and other groups began protesting only hours after the shooting, and within one day, the groups protested at the governor’s mansion in St. Paul. The officer claims the governor himself became biased against Yanez.

“Without reading a report, talking to an investigator, or listening to Officer Yanez’s own version of what happened, Governor Dayton announced the Castile shooting was raced-based; he did not personally think the incident would have happened had the driver been white,” the memo states.

Had Yanez’s publicity faded, his attorneys say the change of venue request would be less persuasive. But because there has been consistent coverage on the incident from July 2016 to now, the “constancy alone” supports a venue change, they say.

Yanez wants his case to be “removed from where the Governor lives, where the [Black Lives Matter] protests have been frequent, away from the prominent media outlets, away, too, from I94 which has been shutdown [by protesters], from Mr. Castile’s personal memorial near where the shots were fired.”

His attorneys suggest other venues hours away from the Twin Cities, including the cities of Duluth, St. Cloud and Brainerd. Hastings is also a suggested venue, which is in Dakota County, only about 30 minutes from the Ramsey County Courthouse.

Attorneys representing Minnesota did not immediately respond Thursday to a phone call requesting comment on the motion to change venue.