ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez took the witness stand Friday in his manslaughter trial over the traffic-stop killing of Philando Castile, telling jurors he saw Castile reach for a gun and thought he was going to die.
Castile’s July 2016 killing received worldwide attention because his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her 4-year-old daughter when Yanez shot Castile five times, live-streamed the immediate aftermath on Facebook.
Yanez, 29, has been charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
On Friday – three days after Reynolds took the stand – Yanez confronted jurors, his family and Castile's family in a packed courtroom and described the thoughts and emotions he experienced after pulling Castile over for a broken taillight, learning that a firearm was in the car and allegedly seeing Castile reach for the gun.
"I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die. My family popped into my head. My wife. My baby girl. Officer Kauser. I was concerned about the front seat passenger. I was concern about the child in the back,” he said.
Yanez's voice began to cracking and he started crying.
"I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile."
He then sobbed.
"I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile at all. Those were not my intentions."
During cross-examinations, prosecutor Richard Dusterhoft asked Yanez if he believed he followed all policies of the St. Anthony Police Department.
"I did," Yanez replied.
Dusterhoft asked Yanez to go back prior to the shooting from his prospective.
Yanez said he followed Castile for two miles before he pulled Castile over in a fully marked squad car. He did not contact dispatch.
Yanez said when he approached Castile's vehicle he saw a child and an adult female. He also saw Castile in a seatbelt.
When Yanez was obtaining proof of insurance from Castile, he said he could see inside the car and kept an eye on Castile's hands.
When Castile said, "Sir, I have to tell you I have a firearm," Yanez was looking at Castile's insurance card.
At this point, Yanez says the dynamic changes for an officer because they are on "high alert."
The officer said he was investigating a robbery and that Castile "should have told me he had a permit” to carry the gun.
Yanez explained to jurors that Castile did not make eye contact and was "mumbling" and "talking forward" and "wanted to do what he wanted to do."
The officer said that he began experiencing "tunnel vision" when Castile was telling him that he was not "reaching for it."
Yanez said that he saw Castile reach for a gun from his right thigh, just before he fired seven shots, hitting Castile five times.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension interviewed the officer after the fatal shooting.
During this interview, Dusterhoft says Yanez made several statements that are now inconsistent with his current testimony, including that he only saw Castile's gun barrel when Castile was reaching for an "object."
Yanez now says he did in fact see a firearm and its slide.