ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — The girlfriend of Philando Castile, who live-streamed on Facebook the immediate aftermath of his killing by a Minnesota police officer, led off the testimony Tuesday, the second day of the manslaughter trial of St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Diamond Reynolds, 27, made world headlines with her posts on July 6 last year, as Castile, 32, shot in the heart, died in the driver’s seat next to her. Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat. Yanez fired seven shots, hitting Castile five times.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged Yanez with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
Reynolds, dressed in black hair, appeared confident on the stand Tuesday morning. She resumed the testimony she began Monday in a jury trial before Ramsey County Judge William Leary III.
Reynolds said it was a hot night when Castile was killed. After she worked her shift at a Family Dollar store, her sister Ariel picked her up at work to take her grocery shopping. But first they stopped off at her house to smoke a joint, then picked up 4-year-old Dae-Anna from day care.
Castile, running behind on time, joined the three after returning from his hair appointment in which he had dreadlocks done for his upcoming birthday. Castile decided to stay in the car while the sisters shopped for groceries.
Yanez’s attorney Earl Gray asked Reynolds if she knew there was marijuana in the car while she was driving with Castile.
Reynolds said she did not know that, though she acknowledged having smoked in her house. After the shooting, officers said, they found marijuana in a Mason jar in the car.
As the squad car video of the shooting was played for jurors a second time, Reynolds wept and wiped tears from her face with a tissue. Courtroom watchers cried too.
After the video ended, Reynolds said that Castile had tried to unbuckle his seatbelt after the police stop.
Assistant prosecutor Clayton Robinson asked if a photo shown to her — Castile, dead, with a seatbelt still across his arm — was accurate. She said it was.
She said she felt “broken … hurt … confused … lost” after seeing Castile killed.
She said she decided to live-stream the traffic stop because she knows “that people aren’t protected,” and so that if anything should happen to her, “my daughter would know the truth.”
She said she also feared for her daughter’s safety.
Asked to identify the man who shot Castile, Reynolds said: “Yes. He has a blue tie, in a suit today and glasses.”
Though she had a direct view of Yanez, sitting at the head of the counsel table, she did not look directly at him, but lowered her head.
On cross-examination, defense attorney Gray tried to impeach Reynolds’ reliability, focusing on the marijuana. The autopsy found THC in Castile’s blood. Gray told Reynolds her testimony about the marijuana differed from what she told police that night. He said she told police: “The weed came from me.” But now, Gray said, she claims that Castile bought the marijuana and she was not with him when he did.
Gray asked her to read to herself the transcript of the July 6 interview. Reynolds agreed that her statements were inconsistent, but said that she was confused about whether police and attorneys were referring to the joint she had smoked or the marijuana found in Castile’s car.
Gray cited what he called another inconsistency in Reynolds’ testimony: that at a demonstration outside the governor’s mansion on July 7, posted on YouTube, she said Castile had his “hands in the air,” but now she says it was just one hand.
Gray told the jury there were inconsistencies in Reynolds’ statements about what Castile was trying to reach for when he was pulled over. First she said Castile had reached into a pocket to retrieve his “thick wallet,” but in a May 31 interview this year she said he was trying to unbuckle his seatbelt.
Reynolds said she may not have been able to communicate effectively with officers immediately after the killing because there was “a lot going on” and she “hadn’t grasped what had happened.”
After Reynolds was dismissed, police Officer Joseph Kauser, who was on patrol with Yanez, took the stand.
Kauser worked with the St. Anthony Police Department from January 2013 to April 2017, when he left to join the Bloomington Police Department. St. Anthony, pop. 9,000 is a suburb of St. Paul. Bloomington, pop. 86,000, southwest of the state capital, is Minnesota’s fourth-largest city.
Yanez and Kauser were partners on the beat and good friends who had attended college together. Kauser said he had known Yanez for 10 years, and that his friend never had “racist views.” He called him “laid back” and “good with people.”
Kauser had been on duty for about three hours that night and was at a fire station a mile away when Yanez radioed him for backup. He said Yanez had told him he did not get a “good look” at the driver, but that he resembled the description of a suspect in a recent robbery.
When Kauser arrived, he said, it was “light enough to see but the sun was setting.” He said he did not know anything about Castile’s vehicle information because it was Yanez who ran the license plate.
Kauser said that ordinarily he would have treated it as an ordinary traffic stop, not a felony stop, because Yanez pulled Castile over for a broken taillight. In a felony stop, Kauser said, multiple officers are used and occupants are asked to leave the vehicle. He said that if time allows, the first officer should inform backup whether the suspect has a gun.
Castile told Yanez he had a gun, and a permit to carry it, according to Monday testimony.
Kauser said that if he knows the suspect has a gun, he asks them where it is, and asks them to keep their hands in his view, such as on the dashboard or steering wheel.
As backup for Yanez, Kauser said, he stood at the rear passenger door of the vehicle and kept an eye on the hands of Reynolds and Dae-Anna.
Kauser said nothing alarmed him when he arrived at the stop.
The squad car video of the shooting was played again, and prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen asked Kauser if he had seen any signs of threat during the incident.
“No, I did not feel threatened from the point where I was standing,” Kauser said.
Asked if he was surprised by the shots, Kauser said: II was. I didn’t know there was a firearm in the vehicle.”
Prosecutors then continued the video and audio recording for jurors to hear Yanez explain to another officer what had just happened.
Yanez said that Castile was buckled into his seat, and that he had told Castile “not to reach for it.”
He added: “I didn’t know where it was and he didn’t tell me where the gun was.”
Kauser testified that he did not see a gun from where he was looking.
Defense attorney Gray then tried to pick apart Kauser’s testimony. He said that Kauser had said that Yanez had told him that “he observed a firearm,” during Kauser’s initial statement to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Gray told the jury that Kauser has just testified that he was keeping an eye on Reynolds and Dae-Anna, but said later, “I don’t know what he [Castile] was reaching for.”
Toward the end of his testimony, Kauser said he believed Yanez followed protocol. “I trust him as a partner and he did what he was supposed to do in that situation.”
Roseville police Officer Juan Toran, who arrived after Castile had been shot, testified Toran that he saw the gun taken out of Castile’s right pocket.
Eric Torgerson, a St. Paul firefighter and paramedic, testified that he saw an officer reach into Castile’s pocket, “going deep” to retrieve the gun. When he arrived, Torgerson said, he knew that the situation was “different” from normal.
The trial was to continued Wednesday.