VERDICT: Officer Jeronimo Yanez found not guilty in shooting of Philando Castile
ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - Reporters were let into the courtroom after everyone was in place. The family of St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was seated in the front left, and the family of Philando Castile front right -- exactly as the room has looked so many times.
Only this time there were more than ten deputies. And this time, the jury had a verdict.
As the world waited outside the Ramsey County Courthouse, inside Courtroom 880, the foreman of a jury of seven men and five women, including two persons of color, handed their papers to the clerk.
Six words that sent Philando Castile’s mother, Valerie, out of the courtroom crying, “Let me go.”
“My son loved this city, and this city killed my son and the murderer gets away," Castile said.
Officer Yanez left the courtroom through a different door, to face a different future. Although he was acquitted, Yanez will not keep his job with the St. Anthony Police Department.
“He was very relieved," Tom Kelly, one of the defense attorneys, said of Yanez after the verdict came down. "He’s glad it’s over. It’s a tragedy all the way around. We’re very satisfied in the verdict. The jury considered this thoroughly, thoroughly litigated, fairly litigated and fairly defended. Nobody should have an adverse reaction to this. This was a fair trial all the way around."
Officer Yanez was charged with manslaughter for the July 6, 2016 shooting of Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The shooting garnered national attention when Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath of the fatal shooting on Facebook Live. It was the first time in Minnesota history a police officer had been charged with fatally shooting a citizen.
Yanez was also charged with two felony counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety for firing his weapon with Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter also in the car. He was also found not guilty on those counts.
The jury reached a verdict after 27 hours of deliberations. One juror said there were two hold-outs, with an agreement reached by 2 p.m. Friday.
At a press conference on Friday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said he was disappointed with the verdict. He said the prosecution's position throughout the case was that Castile did nothing that warranted Yanez shooting him.
“I also don’t doubt that Officer Yanez is a decent person as people testified in court," Choi said. "But he made a horrible mistake from our perspective and that was what this case was about, that good people can also make mistakes. I know that if he could he would take back what he did and we all wish, and he would too, this never happened. But, unfortunately we can’t.”
Choi said he understands that some members of the community might be hurt by the outcome of the trial, but asked that they remain peaceful.
“As hard as this is for some members of our community, we have to accept this verdict," Choi said. "It was the product of a fair and impartial investigation, thorough prosecution review and a trial by a jury of Ramsey County residents. Their decision must be respected because that is the fundamental premise of the rule of law.”
Yanez no longer with St. Anthony Police Department
The City of St. Anthony announced on Friday that Yanez is no longer a police officer with the city. He will be offered a voluntary separation agreement to "help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer, according to a statement.
Yanez will not return to active duty, the city said. Read the full statement
Department of Justice assessing case
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota released the following statement: "From the outset, this case has been closely monitored by the Department of Justice. An experienced career prosecutor with the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota was cross designated to assist the state prosecution team. We determined that this course of action was the strongest available avenue for a prosecution, given the higher level of intent required under the applicable federal criminal civil rights law. In the wake of today’s verdict, we are assessing whether any additional federal review is justified."
Castile family reacts to verdict
Despite the verdict, the family of Philando Castile and their attorney, former television judge Glenda Hatchett, praised Ramsey County Attorney John Choi for prosecuting the case.
Hatchett said she thought the case would be a turning point for the United States.
“This time there should have been, in our opinion, a very, very different outcome because if Philando can die under these circumstances, let’s be clear, each of you could die under these circumstances,” Hatchett said.
In an emotional statement, Valerie Castile, Philando's mother, expressed her disappointment with the outcome of the trial.
“My son loved this city and this city killed my son and the murderer gets away," Valerie said.
“For those jurors to not have enough human empathy and a conscience to just to the right thing, that just baffles me," Allysza Castile, Philando's 24-year-old sister said.
Diamond Reynolds: 'God help America'
Diamond Reynolds released a statement through her attorney regarding the verdict.
“I am incredibly disappointed with the jury’s 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. He was seatbelted and doing as he was told, when he was shot by Officer YANEZ who fired 7 shots into the vehicle where my 4 y/o daughter and I also sat. It is a sad state of affairs when this type of criminal conduct is condoned simply because Yanez is a policeman. God help America.”
The jury received the case on Monday afternoon. On Tuesday, they re-watched Yanez’s dashcam video and Reynolds’ Facebook Live videos. The jurors also requested to review the transcript of Yanez's interview with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, but Judge William H. Leery III denied their request.
By Wednesday, the jurors appeared to be at an impasse, prompting the judge to reread the jury instructions before sending them back into the room to keep deliberating.
About an hour into deliberations on Friday, the jury asked to have all of Yanez's testimony reread, but the judge also denied that request. They reached a verdict shortly before 2:15 p.m.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Yanez never saw a gun and there was no reason for Castile to pull his gun out. The state’s use of force expert said in his testimony, that Yanez was not “objectively reasonable” in shooting Castile.
"You can't blame Castile for Yanez not following his own training,” Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen said in his closing argument.
The defense claimed Castile disregarded Yanez’s orders during the traffic stop because he was stoned.
In his testimony, a tearful Yanez said Castile interrupted his instructions and started reaching for his gun.
“I was scared to death,” Yanez told the jury. “I thought I was going to die.”
Philando Castile shooting: The trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez
DAY 1: Squad video played, opening statements
DAY 2: Diamond Reynolds and Yanez's partner testify
DAY 3: Use of force experts testify
DAY 4: Prosecution rests, police chief takes the stand
DAY 5: Officer Yanez takes stand, defense rests
DAY 6: Closing arguments, jury begins deliberations
DAY 7: Jury re-watches 2 key videos, no verdict reached
DAY 8: Jury deadlocked, judge asks them to continue