A jury in St. Paul, Minnesota, found Jeronimo Yanez not guilty of all charges for the fatal shooting of Black motorist Philando Castile last July.
Mr. Castile was fatally shot in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota. A graphic video taken by Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and streamed live on Facebook shows him unconscious and bloody in his seat as the officer points a gun through the car window. Her four-year-old daughter is in the backseat. Mr. Castile was licensed to carry a gun; a dashboard camera recorded him calmly telling Officer Yanez that he had a weapon in the car. Yanez told him not to reach for the weapon, and Mr. Castile and Ms. Reynolds both tried to assure the officer that he was not doing so. Within seconds, Yanez fired seven shots. Ms. Reynolds says on the video that Mr. Castile was reaching for his wallet when he was shot.
Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm into Mr. Castile’s car. The New York Times reports the trial is believed to be the first time in Minnesota history that a police officer was charged in an on-duty fatal shooting.
Officer Yanez testified that he feared Mr. Castile was reaching for his gun. Sherrilyn Ifill, director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said the jury’s verdict demonstrates how difficult it is to prosecute an officer for a fatal shooting.
“This incident seemed so egregious and avoidable that we hoped that this time, it might be different – that this time, justice might be served,” she said in a statement. “Because if the government can take your life and no one is held responsible, you are a second-class citizen, if not fully dehumanized in the eyes of the law. That is the devastating message this verdict, along with all those similar acquittals before it, sends to communities of color across the nation.”
Prosecutors argued that Officer Yanez created a dangerous situation and perceived a threat where none existed. “He was making assumptions and jumping to conclusions without engaging in the dialogue he was trained to have in a citizen encounter like this,” prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said in closing arguments. “And that’s his fault, not the fault of Philando Castile.”
This is just the latest example of the inability to hold police officers accountable, even in the face of compelling video evidence. In Cleveland, a white police officer who fired repeatedly at an unarmed Black couple inside a car, including at least 15 shots after he reloaded and climbed onto the hood of the car, was acquitted of manslaughter in May. Also last month, a white police officer was found not guilty in the fatal shooting of an unarmed Black man in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Six Baltimore police officers were charged in the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in April 2015; after three trials ended in acquittals, the remaining cases were dropped last summer. The trial of the South Carolina police officer who shot Walter Scott in the back as he ran away ended in a mistrial in December, as did the trial of the white former University of Cincinnati police officer who fatally shot unarmed Black motorist Samuel DuBose during a traffic stop.
EJI is working to challenge the presumption of guilt and dangerousness that burdens people of color by promoting awareness and recognition of how police violence and racial disparities throughout our criminal justice system are a legacy of our nation’s history of racial injustice.