ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – Attorneys for the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer tried to persuade a state judge Wednesday morning to dismiss the criminal charges against him.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William Leary III heard Jeronimo Yanez's defense attorney, Paul Engh, argue why Yanez’s manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm charges for the killing of Castile during a July 2016 traffic stop should be dismissed.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Paulsen, representing the state of Minnesota, argued the case should continue to trial.
On Monday, Leary issued an order for courtroom attendees on how Wednesday’s hearing would be conducted. Some of the rules included no standing, no leaving the courtroom without permission, and no clothing or signs referring to Castile. One of the strictest requirements was that no one was allowed to make any facial expression or change in demeanor that expressed their opinion in response to arguments being made.
The hearing lasted about 40 minutes and most of the attendees were reporters and Castile's family.
Yanez, 28, entered the courtroom in a beige suit with a black tie, appearing to have a somber expression on his face.
Engh argued that the case lacks probable cause and that Yanez acted within his rights as a police officer during the stop.
Yanez suspected Castile of being involved in a robbery that occurred four days before the shooting. The officer said he had reason to stop Castile because his vehicle had a broken taillight.
"Yanez had the right to investigate, to have a gun, to have [Castile] obey his commands, to reach into [the car] and prevent Castile from getting the gun and to shoot," Engh states.
"A trial for the innocent is not appropriate," he added.
Engh also argued that because Castile had marijuana in his system at the time of the incident, he did not have rights to a gun.
"Yanez conduct is reflected by Castile's conduct...and in this situation Yanez had no choice,” the attorney said.
Yanez’s defense cited White v. Pauly, a case in which an officer arrived late to an ongoing police call and shot and killed an armed person without warning after witnessing shots being fired by one of several people in a house surrounded by other officers.
Engh said the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in White that the reasonableness of an officer's use of force depends in part on whether the officer was in danger at that precise moment.
However, Paulsen refuted the assertion, saying the officer in White was entitled to qualified immunity, "the opposite of our case.”
"Mr. White was only responsible for what he knew," Paulsen said.
In a reply brief filed last Tuesday, Yanez said his use of deadly force was prompted by seeing Castile’s gun. In his previous reports, Yanez has stated that the “presence” of Castile’s gun drove him to use deadly force. Castle had told the officer he had a firearm just prior to the shooting.
But Paulsen argued that Yanez’s commands required Castile to simultaneously keep his hands out of reach and also retrieve his wallet. According to Paulsen, both Diamond Reynolds, who was also in the car, and Castile said he was not reaching for his gun.
"The question is not whether Philando had a right to carry a gun, it is whether Philando had a reason to be killed for no good reason,” Paulsen said.
Judge Leary said he was going to take the case under advisement and would make a decision Wednesday afternoon. He acknowledged the courtroom attendees and was pleased with their "respectful” behavior.
St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth had no comment about the hearing.
Outside of the courtroom, Valerie Castile, Philando's mother, said her son "was an amazing human being" and that she wasn't too emotional during the hearing because she knows the defense counsel was doing their job.
"It's in God's hands. It's nothing I can say, or any of my people can say or anything we can do. God has his hands all over this one," she said.
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