ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) – The officer charged in the shooting death of Philando Castile now claims he saw Castile's gun before firing seven bullets into his car during a traffic stop last summer, contrary to what the state says was his initial account of the incident.
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez says he "indeed saw Castile's gun" prior to shooting 32-year-old Castile in his vehicle during a routine traffic stop in July 2016. Yanez, 28, is charged with second-degree manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm.
In a reply brief filed Tuesday, Yanez states that 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.
Yanez’s brief was filed in Ramsey County District Court in response to Minnesota’s opposition to his motion to dismiss his case.
The state said in its Jan. 18 opposition memo that Castile never pulled the gun on Yanez nor threatened to do so.
"Defendant admitted in a tape recorded statement minutes after the shooting that he never saw a gun,” the memo states. “Even in his formal statement to investigators the following day, Defendant never claimed he actually saw a gun, but only he 'thought [Castile] had the gun in his hand,' which is inconsistent with his statement the night before."
Moreover, the gun was still inside Castile's deep right front pants pocket when other officers pulled Castile from the vehicle after the shooting, the state says.
But Yanez says he described what the gun looked like, the caliber and the color in his formal statement taken the day after the incident.
"The gun dropping out of Castille's right pocket that night matched the description. And the shorts pocket wasn't so 'deep' as to prevent the gun from easily falling out," he argues.
He also claims that the gun was accessible and that Castile reached for it.
According to the state, Joseph Kauser, an officer who was called for backup, never saw the gun despite his vantage point at the passenger side of the vehicle. And when asked if he was surprised that Yanez began shooting, Kauser responded, "absolutely," the state’s memo says.
The state also says that Diamond Reynolds, a passenger in the vehicle, confirmed that Castile never pulled the gun out of his pocket.
Yanez refutes the claim, and says Reynolds was high on marijuana. The officer also argued that Castile's use of marijuana “created his own risk.”
"He drove a car when he shouldn't have, was high…and when asked to move his hands away from his gun, he refused,” the officer’s reply states. “Mr. Castile's intervening, superseding act was in not keeping his right hand from that handgun, a pistol loaded and ready to fire.”
Claiming he had no duty of care to Castile because he was high, Yanez relied on State v. Back, a case where the defendant was a woman whose jealous boyfriend shot and killed another man whom she had been seeing on the side.
But Minnesota says Yanez’s case is different because Castile was killed by Yanez himself, not by a third party, and Yanez's reliance on Back to suggest that a police officer never has a duty of care for a "narcotics addict" is untenable.
"Moreover, creation of such a rule would allow police officers to use deadly force against drug users with impunity, no matter how unjustified the use of force might be," the state says.
Yanez suspected Castile of being involved in a robbery that occurred four days earlier. The officer said he had reason to stop Castile because his vehicle had a broken taillight.
The immediate aftermath of the shooting was live-streamed by Reynolds, who was a passenger in the car along with her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat.
The shooting spawned protests at the governor’s mansion and other parts of the country, including a demonstration in Oakland, Calif., that shut down an interstate for hours. Yanez was charged in November.
According to the Star Tribune, Ramsey County District Court Judge William H. Leary III will hear oral arguments in the case on Feb. 15.
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