The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop was acquitted on all charges by a jury Friday, a decision that came nearly a year after the encounter was partially streamed online to a rapt nation in the midst of a painful reckoning over shootings by law enforcement.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Castile’s car over in Falcon Heights, a suburb near Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the officer later said he thought Castile matched the description of a suspect in a robbery. The stop quickly escalated.
Yanez fired into the car, saying later he thought Castile was going for his gun, a claim Castile’s girlfriend, sitting in the seat next to him, disputed. She began streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live.
Police officers are seldom charged for fatal on-duty shootings and convictions are even less common. Castile’s death came at a time of intense scrutiny of fatal police-involved shootings, and the viral video of his final moments spurred heated demonstrations that continued for weeks.
Outside the court, where a small group of protesters gathered Friday afternoon, Castile’s relatives denounced the jury’s decision. Castile’s mother called his death a murder and tied the verdict to what she described as systemic racism in Minnesota.
“The system continues to fail black people, and it will continue to fail you all,” Valerie Castile said, her anger building. “My son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?”
Prosecutors charged Yanez with second-degree manslaughter in November, a felony, saying that “no reasonable officer” would have used deadly force in the same situation. He also was charged with two felony counts for intentionally discharging the gun. Jurors began deliberating Monday, and the verdict was announced Friday afternoon.
Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said the state continues to grieve with Castile’s family, calling his death “a terrible tragedy, with devastating consequences for everyone involved.”
On Friday evening, several hundred protesters amassed around the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul to decry the verdict.
One protester, local activist Vanessa Taylor, said the verdict confirmed her worst fears about the legal system.
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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Mark Berman