ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – A Minnesota jury on Friday acquitted St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter for the fatal traffic-stop shooting of Philando Castile last summer, the aftermath of which was streamed lived on Facebook.
On the fifth day of deliberations and 14th day of trial, jurors reached their verdict around 2 p.m. local time Friday. In total, jurors deliberated for more than 25 hours.
Upon hearing the verdict, Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, stormed out of the courtroom and yelled, “Fuck you. Fuck this shit!”
During a subsequent press conference, Castile’s mother thanked prosecutors but said she is disappointed in the system.
“The system continues to fail black people and it will continue to fail you all,” she said. “Like I said because this happened to Philando when they get done with us they are coming for you! For you! And all your interracial children. You all are next.”
She noted that her son had one tattoo – the letters T.C., representing the Twin Cities.
“My son loved this city and this city killed my son! And a murderer gets away!”
Judge Glenda Hatchett, attorney for the Castile family, said after the verdict that “this time we had to get it right.”
“This time we had a young man, who had no criminal record, who was a 13-year employee of the St. Paul Public School System, who never missed worked, who loved the children that he served, knew all 500 children by name,” she said. “I said this time we didn’t have a man fleeing from the scene, we didn’t have a man fighting with the police. We had a man who was fully compliant as his mother taught him. This time! This time! There should have been in our opinion a very, very, very different outcome. Because if Philando can die under these circumstances, let’s be clear, each of you could die under these circumstances.”
Castile’s sister, Allysza Castile, was also emotional opening up to reporters outside the courthouse.
“For those jurors to not to have human empathy and conscious to just do the right thing just baffles me,” she said. “I know my brother. My brother would never ever put Diamond in danger or Dea-Anna in danger because he loved that little girl and he loved this state.”
Mel Reeves, a civil rights activist, said he is disappointed for Castile’s mother and the community.
“We were hoping for the best. But understanding the world I live in and the system we live under, I knew anything could happen,” he said.
Reeves said he was hoping the jurors would do the right thing but they did not.
“If you sat through that trial–and I did, there is no way you can come back and say he was not guilty on all charges. He was clearly guilty. They made their case. He was guilty,” he said.
Reeves refused to answer reporters’ questions about the city’s reaction or the community’s response.
“We should ask questions about why do we keep coming back here, what kind of system do we live in if we can’t get justice, ever?”
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said, “We gave it our best shot. We really did. I’m so proud of the team we assembled… We put our heart and soul into it.”
“Our position throughout this case was that Philando Castile did nothing that justified the taking of his life,” Choi said. “From our perspective and what we were trying to prove was that Philando Castile was simply following Officer Yanez’s commands and orders to retrieve his license, and just as he said the moments before being shot and as he laid dying in his car, he said he wasn’t reaching for it.”
“When Officer Yanez chose lethal force, as we said, there was no imminent threat and we tried our best to prove that he didn’t see a gun and that Castile wasn’t pulling it out. And the toughest part for me with respect to those facts is that [Castile] was so respectful in how he disclosed that he had that firearm. He said, ‘Sir I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.’ And he went beyond what the law requires. He was compliant. He wasn’t resisting,” Choi said. “Unfortunately the jury didn’t see it that way.”
The prosecutor said he didn’t doubt that Yanez “is a decent person as people testified in court,” but added, “Good people can also make mistakes. I know if he could he would take back what he did, and we all wish and he would too, this never happened but unfortunately we can’t.”
“I understand that this verdict brings a lot of hurt and pain and deep seeded frustration for a lot of people in this community, and I suspect that they want to express their pain. Protests and demonstrations truly are the foundation of our democracy. And I’m sure that people may choose to express their voices. However, please, in the honor and memory of Philando Castile, please do so peacefully.”
Choi concluded his press conference with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Violence only begets more violence and we do not want anyone getting hurt.”
Protesters did indeed take to the streets Friday night. Demonstrations were peaceful overall, though 18 people were arrested when they tried to block an interstate.
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, was charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. He was found not guilty on all counts Friday.
Jurors also heard testimonies from eye witnesses, including Yanez’s partner Joseph Kauser and other police officers on the scene, in addition to St. Paul firefighter and paramedic Eric Torgerson, who testified that he saw an officer reach into Castile’s pocket, “going deep” to retrieve his gun.
Both sides also brought in their own use-of-force experts, Jeffrey Noble for the prosecution and Emanuel Kapelsohn for the defense.
Perhaps the strongest argument prosecutors used to sway jurors was simply replaying Yanez’s squad cam video repeatedly.
The 90-second video was shown to jurors during the state’s opening argument and revealed how quickly the routine traffic stop turned into a fatal shooting.
The time between when Castile tells Yanez that he has a firearm and when the officer fires his first shot is less than 10 seconds.
When Castile said, “Sir, I have to tell you I have a firearm,” Yanez was looking at Castile’s insurance card and told him, “Don’t reach for it.”
When Castile told Yanez that he was not reaching for it, Yanez interrupted Castile and yelled, “Don’t pull it out! Don’t pull it out!”
Yanez then fired seven rounds in the vehicle, hitting Castile five times.
The 12 jurors – seven men and five women – all are white expect for one black man and one black woman.
Yanez testified for about two hours on Friday, three days after Reynolds’ testimony.
He claimed that he saw Castile reach for his gun and had no choice but to shoot Castile.
“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 told jurors.
“I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile,” he said, crying on the stand. “I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile at all. Those were not my intentions.”
But prosecutors said Yanez’s statements about what he saw in the final moments before the shooting are inconsistent, including Yanez’s statements to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and to St. Anthony Police Officer Tressa Sunde, who first spoke to Yanez immediately after the shooting.
Prosecutors fought hard against Yanez’s defense that Castile had marijuana in his system at the time of the shooting, was stoned and didn’t obey the officer’s instructions.
The state argued that simply because marijuana was in Castile’s system at the time of the incident does not prove that he was under the influence.
Prosecutors also said this did not change the fact that Castile had a valid permit to carry his gun.
Jurors also heard the heart-wrenching testimony of Reynolds.
She told jurors that Castile was shot after he told Yanez that he had a firearm and was reaching for his ID.
Reynolds told jurors that she was “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 if anything should happen to her, “my daughter would know the truth.”