ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The police officer who made national headlines in 2016 for shooting and killing Black motorist Philando Castile will get a second chance at receiving a substitute teaching license, courtesy of the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Jeronimo Yanez, who shot at Castile seven times and hit him five times during a traffic stop after Castile informed him that he was carrying a permitted weapon, was denied a short-call substitute teaching license in 2020. The Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board’s disciplinary committee informed him that it intended to recommend denial of his application on the basis that Castile’s killing constituted misconduct sufficient to warrant denial.
An administrative law judge found against Yanez when he appealed that decision, after a hearing in which St. Paul Public Schools superintendent Dr. Joseph Gothard testified that “no school-aged child should have a licensed educator who took the life of a Black man in the way [Yanez] did.” Castile was working for St. Paul Public Schools as a cafeteria supervisor at the time of his death.
Yanez brought the case to the Minnesota Court of Appeals early this year, arguing that the standard under which his application was denied, allowing license denials for “immoral character or conduct,” is unconstitutionally vague.
A three-judge panel consisting of Chief Judge Susan Segal, Judge Diane Bratvold and Judge Sarah Wheelock largely agreed. In a Segal-penned opinion published Monday morning, the court found that the rule is constitutional, but only with a narrowing construction that limited the board to considering “professional morals in the occupation of teaching.”
The panel stopped short of requiring the board to license Yanez, instead remanding the case for reconsideration.
“In undertaking that evaluation, the board must avoid generalized critiques of policing practices– such as characterizing the practice of using a pretextual reason for a stop as immoral,” Segal wrote. “The board’s decision must focus exclusively on Yanez’s conduct and his fitness to be a teacher, not fitness to be a police officer.”
Castile’s death made national news after his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, went live on Facebook immediately after Yanez shot Castile. Reynolds and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter were in the car with Castile when Yanez and other members of the St. Anthony Police Department pulled them over while looking for a robbery suspect with a “wide-set nose” that Yanez said resembled Castile’s.
Yanez, who was later charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangered safety, said on the stand that he had seen Castile reaching for a gun but had not heard him say that it was a licensed firearm and that he was not reaching for it. Yanez was acquitted by a jury on all counts in June 2017. The not-guilty verdict became a major talking point in subsequent Twin Cities racial-justice protests, including those that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd.
In the years since, Yanez, who is Latino, has worked part-time as a Spanish teacher in a predominantly white parochial school. The school’s principal testified in his favor at the contested-case hearing for his license.
Yanez's attorney, Rob Fowler, issued a brief statement on the decision Monday afternoon. "It was obvious the Licensing Board’s decision was wrong," Fowler wrote. "That’s why my client appealed and he is pleased with the Court’s decision. However, my client’s priority now is moving on to the next chapter in his life in peace and privacy."
Board representatives declined to comment Monday afternoon, citing a law forbidding them from disclosing information on licensing applicants.
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