Jury finds officer who shot Philando Castile not guilty

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A jury has found St. Anthony Police officer Jeronimo Yanez was reasonable in his decision to shoot and kill Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last summer.

The jury reached its verdict of not guilty on the manslaughter charge as well as the two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm Friday afternoon after about 30 hours of deliberations.

It was delivered in a Ramsey County District Court courtroom packed with family members and friends of both Yanez and Castile.

Jurors received the case Monday afternoon after attorneys for the prosecution and defense finished their closing arguments.

Defense attorney Earl Gray hugged Yanez's wife and mother shortly after the verdict was read.

"You are supposed to be happy, not crying," he was overheard saying to Yanez's mother.

Dennis Ploussard, a member of the jury, called deliberations "very, very hard" and says he thinks the panel delivered the right verdict.

Ploussard said the jury was split 10-2 early this week in favor of acquittal for Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was charged in the death of 32-year-old Philando Castile.

Jurors spent a lot of time dissecting the "culpable negligence" requirement for conviction, Ploussard said. He said the last two holdouts eventually agreed on acquittal.

Ploussard wouldn't identify the two holdouts, but said they were not the jury's only two black members.

He declined to say whether he thought Yanez acted appropriately. He said the jury sympathizes with the Castile family.

Allysza Castile, Philando's 24-year-old sister, said after the verdict was announced that she hadn't spoken much in the last year because she gets emotional concerning her brother's death.

"The system really is wrong and they really failed us," she said, in tears outside the courthouse. "They really failed us once again because my brother was a good man" who never raised his voice.

Historic case

Yanez was the first police officer in modern Minnesota history to be charged in an on-duty shooting. Yanez fired seven bullets into Castile's car shortly after the 32-year-old black man disclosed that he was carrying a firearm. Yanez said Castile was reaching for the gun and didn't listen to his instructions to stop.

Castile had a license to carry a gun, but he hadn't told the officer that before the shooting took place.

Yanez, who is Latino, pulled Castile over for a broken tail light July 6 in Falcon Heights, after alerting his police partner in another squad car that Castile resembled one of the suspects in a recent armed robbery, due to his "wide-set nose."

After approaching his car window, Yanez asked Castile for his license and proof of insurance. After handing over his insurance card, Castile told him, "Sir, I do have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me."

Yanez proceeded to tell him not to reach for it, to which Castile replied that he wasn't. Differing interpretations on the intentions of Castile's next movements defined both the state and defense cases.

The state argued during the roughly weeklong trial that Castile was trying to get to the driver's license Yanez had seconds before asked him to produce when the officer "jumped to conclusions" and needlessly shot him.

'I thought I was going to die'

Yanez testified that he acted out of self-defense when he saw Castile go for his pistol despite the officer's orders not to reach for it. With Castile's hand on his gun, Yanez said he had to act. He cried on the witness stand as he recounted his decision to shoot, telling jurors "I thought I was going to die."

Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter, were also in the car at the time of the shooting. Prosecutors maintained that Yanez put their lives in danger when he opened fire into the car.

One bullet hit the armrest between Reynolds and Castile. Another pierced the back seat, about 16 inches from the child's car seat.

The defense said Yanez strategically aimed his weapon down and to the left to protect the passengers from harm.

Reynolds pulled out her cellphone and began live-streaming the shooting's aftermath on Facebook as Castile bled to death.

Her video went viral, sparking protests both locally and nationally about police use of force, particularly against black men.

There was also video of the shooting captured from a camera mounted on the dashboard in Yanez's squad car. It was played repeatedly throughout the trial.

Castile's mother and other friends and family were fixtures in the courtroom throughout the proceedings, as was Yanez's family.

'God help America'

Reynolds, in a statement issued through her attorney, said she was "incredibly disappointed in the verdict."

"My boyfriend, Philando Castile, was pulled over because, per Officer Yanez, he had a wide nose and looked like a suspect. He did nothing but comply with Officer Yanez's instructions to get his driver's license. ... It is a sad state of affairs when this type of criminal conduct is condoned simply because Officer Yanez is a policeman. God help America."

In a statement after the verdict was announced, St. Anthony city officials said they would offer Yanez "a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer." The terms of the agreement were yet to be negotiated, but Yanez would not return to active duty, the statement said.

Meanwhile, in a statement on the verdict, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman called Castile "a son of St. Paul — a graduate of Central High School, and a dedicated employee at J.J. Hill Montessori, where he was loved by his students and co-workers."

Coleman asked for restraint on the part of those angry with the verdict.

"As people across our city, state and country react to the jury's verdict, I urge each of us to move forward in a way that is peaceful and respectful of everyone — residents, demonstrators and police officers alike."

Falcon Heights' city administrator issued the following statement after the verdict was announced:

"The City of Falcon Heights is going to continue to do what we've been doing in terms of the task force on policing and inclusion, and continue to move forward and develop the city to be a welcoming and inclusive community."