The images horrified the world, as Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, narrated the shocking, bloody scene that was unfolding around her. Castile, a school lunchroom worker, was shot as he reached for identification. The officer claimed he thought Castile was reaching for a gun; Castile carried a weapon, for which he was licensed.
Officer Yanez, an officer for the suburb of St. Anthony, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm in the shooting.Yanez supposedly “did what he had to do” in killing Castile, because Castile had marijuana in his car and “was stoned,” according to Yanez’s lawyer.
The case was the first time in history that a Minnesota police officer was charged for an on-duty shooting.Castile and Reynolds both tried to assure the officer that Castile was not reaching for his weapon. Within seconds, Officer Yanez fired seven shots.
Prosecutors said Castile had mentioned his gun to address concerns, not to threaten the officer. “If someone were just about to reach in their pocket and pull out a gun and shoot an officer, that’s the last thing they would say,” prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said.
Paulsen said footage showed that Castile was driving normally, pulled over quickly and was alert and courteous when talking to Officer Yanez. He said Officer Yanez’s defense was blaming the victim.
“My son loved this city, and this city killed my son,” Castile’s mother, Valerie, said as she stood on a corner outside the courthouse afterward, reports Mitch Smith at The New York Times. “And a murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?”
“We are horrified and distraught by yet another police killing of an African-American man for which no one will be held accountable,” said Derek Hodel, interim executive director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “While we cannot know the jury’s thinking in Mr. Yanez’s trial, we can know the context in which his trial took place, and should not be surprised by its outcome.
“Indeed, police discrimination against people of color, often under cover of the war on drugs, has been well documented — Mr. Castile had been pulled over, usually for minor traffic infractions, 49 times in 13 years,” Hodel said. “Mr. Yanez’s defense argued that the officer ‘did what he had to do,’ claiming that Mr. Castile had marijuana in his car and that ‘he was stoned,’ a too-common rationalization in police killings, and an allegation that would appear in this case to be contradicted by dashboard video showing Mr. Castile to be compliant, alert and courteous.“We can also know that the demonization of people who use drugs gives license to the trampling of their civil and human rights, and provides a climate of impunity for law enforcement and others who commit acts of unjustifiable violence,” Hodel said. “While the Trump administration hardly invented the drug war, it has been quick to embrace this narrative — as Attorney General Sessions recently summarized, ‘Good people don’t smoke marijuana.’
“We must all own the tragedy endured by Mr. Castile’s family and community – until Americans demand greater accountability for the discrimination and violence of a drug war prosecuted in their name, it won’t be the last,” Hodel said. “Black Lives Matter.”
Local police estimated that 1,500 people set off from the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul on a march to express their displeasure with the verdict, causing traffic backups and transit delays.
Mike Padden, a lawyer representing Reynolds, said he was surprised and disappointed by the verdict. “For those who are committed to the idea of leveling the playing field with law enforcement and the citizenry, it’s a big blow,” he said.
John J. Choi, the prosecutor who announced the charges against Officer Yanez, said on Friday that “This verdict brings a lot of hurt and pain and deep-seated frustration for a lot of people in this community.” Choi said he was disappointed in the verdict, and believed that Castile “did nothing that justified the taking of his life.”
“We gave it our best shot,” said Choi. “We really did.”
Despite the verdict, officials with the city of St. Anthony, where Officer Yanez has worked for several years, issued a statement late Friday saying that they had “concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.” They said they planned to offer him a “voluntary separation agreement.” In the meantime, the city said, he will not be returning to patrol.