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Law & the Courts

The Philando Castile Verdict Was a Miscarriage of Justice

Yesterday, a Minnesota jury acquitted St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez of second-degree manslaughter charges in the shooting of Philando Castile. In considering the rightness of the verdict, pay close attention to the transcript of the fatal encounter. Here it is, via CNN:

9:05:00 p.m. — Castile’s vehicle came to a complete stop.

9:05:15 – 9:05:22 p.m. — Yanez approached Castile’s car on the driver’s side.

9:05:22 – 9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez exchanged greetings with Castile and told him of the brake light problem.

9:05:33 p.m. — St. Anthony Police Officer Joseph Kauser, who had arrived as backup, approached Castile’s car on the passenger’s side.

9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez asked for Castile’s driver’s license and proof of insurance.

9:05:48 p.m. — Castile provided Yanez with his proof of insurance card.

9:05:49 – 9:05:52 p.m. — Yanez looked at Castile’s insurance information and then tucked the card in his pocket.

9:05:52 – 9:05:55 p.m. — Castile told Yanez: “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” Before Castile completed the sentence, Yanez interrupted and replied, “Okay” and placed his right hand on the holster of his gun.

9:05:55 – 9:06:02 p.m. — Yanez said “Okay, don’t reach for it, then.” Castile responded: “I’m… I’m … [inaudible] reaching…,” before being again interrupted by Yanez, who said “Don’t pull it out.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out,” and Reynolds said, “He’s not pulling it out.”

Yanez screamed: “Don’t pull it out,” and pulled his gun with his right hand. Yanez fired seven shots in the direction of Castile in rapid succession. The seventh shot was fired at 9:06:02 p.m. Kauser did not touch or remove his gun.

9:06:03 – 9:06:04 p.m. — Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!”

9:06:04 – 9:06:05 p.m. — Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.” These were his last words.

9:06:05 – 9:06:09 p.m. — Reynolds said “He wasn’t reaching for it.” Before she completed her sentence, Yanez screamed “Don’t pull it out!” Reynolds responded. “He wasn’t.” Yanez yelled, “Don’t move! F***!”

If you read carefully, you’ll note that it appears that the officer shot Castile for doing exactly what the officer told him to do. Yanez asked for Castile’s license. Castile told him that he had a gun, and the officer – rather than asking for his carry permit, or asking where the gun was, or asking to see Castile’s hands – just says, “Don’t reach for it then.”

At that point, Castile is operating under two commands. Get his license, and don’t reach for his gun. As Castile reaches for his license (following the officer’s orders), and he assures him that he’s not reaching for the gun (also following the officer’s orders). The entire encounter, he assures Yanez that he’s following Yanez’s instructions.

He died anyway.

Yes, the evidence indicates that Yanez was afraid for his life. He thought he might have been dealing with a robber (a fact he apparently didn’t tell Castile), and he testified that he smelled marijuana. But Castile was following Yanez’s commands, and It’s simply false that the mere presence of a gun makes the encounter more dangerous for the police. It all depends on who possesses the gun. If he’s a concealed-carry permit-holder, then he’s in one of the most law-abiding demographics in America. 

In recent months we’ve seen a number of cases where courts have excused police for shooting citizens even after the police made mistakes — and the citizens were doing nothing wrong — simply because these citizens were exercising their Second Amendment rights. This is unacceptable, and it represents the most extreme possible deprivation of civil rights and civil liberties.

I understand the inherent danger of police work. I also understand the legal responsibilities of men and women who volunteer to put on that uniform, and the legal rights of the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve. I’m aware of no evidence that Yanez panicked because Castile was black. But whether he panicked because of race, simply because of the gun, or because of both, he still panicked, and he should have been held accountable. The jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice.

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