Recent news illuminated a relevant criminal law/defense topic. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced earlier this week that St. Anthony police officer Jeromino Yanez will face prosecution on second-degree manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Philando Castile on 6 July 2016.
No Grand Jury
Of particular interest was Choi’s announcement that he will forgo a grand jury indictment, something of which he is a strong proponent—but not in this case, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press. Instead, Choi’s decision ensures adjudication in open court, unlike the grand jury process, thus protecting due process and justice.
Just last year, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided to forgo the grand jury and decide that the Minneapolis police officers who fatally shot Jamar Clark would face no criminal charges despite Freeman’s belief that the two officers failed to properly handle the incident. Two white Minneapolis police officers shot 24-year-old African-American after claiming that Clark was resisting and going for one of the officer’s weapons at the time of the shooting. Conflicting eyewitness testimony alleged that Clark was handcuffed and face-down on the ground when shot.
Instead, Choi followed the facts—and his conscience—and proceeded against Officer Yanez who will be the first police officer in Minnesota in 16 years to face criminal charges for a fatal officer-involved shooting. Yanez pled not guilty and was released on his own recognizance.
Strangers have threatened Yanez and his family who have since moved.
But the real victims in this case are Castile and his family. Plain and simple, Castile should not have died, nor should the media have assassinated his character—as well as his girlfriend’s.
The Castile Shooting
On 6 July, Officer Yanez and another St. Anthony police officer pulled over 32-year-old Castile in the Falcon Heights suburb of St. Paul. Castille’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and Reynolds’ four-year-old daughter were also in the vehicle. Yanez asked Castille for his license and registration at which time Castile told the officer that he was licensed to carry and was, in fact, carrying a firearm. Reynolds claimed that Yanez shot Castile seven times as Castile was reaching for his ID. Castile died from multiple gunshot wounds in the Hennepin County Medical Center’s emergency room 20 minutes later.
According to police radio communication with a nearby squad, the officer stated that he planned to pull over Castile’s vehicle because the occupants resembled two robbery suspects. Yanez justified stopping Castile for a broken tail light and because he resembled a robbery suspect, not because Castile was African-American; however, questions arose as to why Yanez did not conduct a felony traffic stop if he did, in fact, believe Castile was a potentially dangerous robbery suspect.
A ten-minute video taken by Reynolds and streamed on Facebook attracted over 2.5 million views. This video begins after the fatal shooting; however, in it, officers handcuffed Reynolds and repeatedly yelled, “F*ck!” Reynolds also asserts that no officer checked to see if Castile was alive, and other officers on the scene were more interested in comforting Yanez. Allegedly, Castile received no first aid until paramedics arrived.
Choi said that in order to justify using deadly force, a police officer cannot rely solely on a mere expression of “a subjective fear of death or great bodily harm.” In other words, fear alone does not justify deadly force. Instead, it must be “objectively reasonable and necessary, given the totality of the circumstances” and, thus, Yanez’s use was not justified.
Former FBI agent turned author and expert on police-involved shootings Larry Brubaker stresses that this is the first case in over 200 cases spanning 30 years in which an officer is facing criminal charges for a fatal shooting.
If convicted, Yanez faces up to ten years in a prison and a fine of up to $10,000.