I watched the video of the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by St. Anthony, Minnesota, Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez numerous times, read summaries of the testimony at the trial and read a transcript of the interview Yanez did with the two special agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension about 15 hours after the shooting, which was not introduced as evidence during the trial.
I’ve also talked to law enforcement personnel who I respect and trust, but I disagree with them on this one. It appears to me that Castile was killed because he was a black man with dreadlocks and another black man with dreadlocks had robbed a convenience store in the area the week before.
Yanez, who was fired as a police officer but found not guilty when he was tried for manslaughter, is Hispanic.
Castile had no way of knowing that he was being stopped because Yanez thought he looked like one of the suspects in the armed robbery, because Yanez told him he was being pulled over because two of his three brakelights were out.
The question I have is: What could Castile have done to keep from being shot and killed? He was polite. He obeyed all the commands of Yanez. And he did what he had been told to do as a gun owner with a concealed carry permit – he informed Officer Yanez that he had a gun in the car.
It appears that was his big mistake because about five seconds after informing Yanez he had a gun, he had been shot five times, twice through the heart.
Castile had no way of knowing that this was not a simple traffic stop for a broken brakelight, because Yanez told Castile that was the reason for the stop. If Castile had been told the real reason for the stop was that Yanez was convinced that, because Castile was a black man with dreadlocks, he had robbed a convenience store the week before, Castile might have realized that he was in danger the moment he pulled over. With that knowledge Castile would have known not to behave like a man with a steady job who had been grocery shopping with his girlfriend and her daughter and who had been stopped by a police officer for a minor traffic violation.
Instead he would have known that he should be in fear for his life because the police officer thought he was a dangerous criminal and then behaved accordingly. But Yanez did not choose to provide that information.
Another answer to what Castile could have done is he could have been white.
Can you imagine the same scenario if Castile, instead of being a 32-year-old black man had been a 32-year-old white woman? Do you think anyone would believe Yanez when he said he was in fear of his life because he was convinced the woman was a quick draw artist who could get the gun from wherever it was hidden and shoot him before he could pull the trigger on his own gun? Do you think the jury would have let Yanez off if he had started firing into the car with two white women and a white child strapped in the backseat?
I don’t think so.
Castile could have also recognized that, because he was a black male and the police officer might be scared of him, that he should keep his hands in full view all the time and tell the police officer about every move he was making. But it appears that Castile didn’t realize his life was in danger until it was too late for him to do anything about it.
From what you can see on the dash-cam video, Yanez appears to panic shortly after he is informed by Castile that Castile has a gun. You can’t see what was going on inside the car from the dash-cam video, in part because it was almost 9 p.m. and was getting dark.
From the video it certainly appears that Yanez panicked. In fact, Yanez testified to the special agents that he got tunnel vision when Castile started moving around in the car.
Yanez had asked Castile for his driver’s license. Since most American males keep their driver’s license in their wallet in a back pocket, it usually takes some moving around for a driver to get to his wallet. Yanez was an experienced police officer; it doesn’t make sense for him to ask someone for their driver’s license and then be alarmed when they move in their seat. The police don’t know where Castile’s wallet was, but his friends say he carried it in his left rear pocket, which would be consistent with the movement that alarmed Yanez so much he shot Castile.
Yanez testified repeatedly that Castile refused to follow his orders and said Castile “had total disregard for my commands” after Castile had calmly informed Yanez that he had a gun.
What Yanez said is, “OK, don’t reach for it then.”
Castile said, “I’m not.”
Yanez said, “Don’t pull it out.”
Castile said, “I’m not.”
Yanez shouted, “Don’t pull it out.”
And then Yanez fires seven times, hitting Castile five times.
What Yanez didn’t do was tell Castile to freeze or put his hands on the steering wheel or keep both hands in view. Yanez also didn’t ask where the gun was.
Yanez said he feared for his life and started shooting. During the trial he said he could see the gun, but in his initial testimony to the two special agents he said he could see Castile’s hand going down like he was grabbing something but he couldn’t see what it was. And then he said he couldn’t see Castile’s right hand because Castile had twisted in his seat, putting his left shoulder forward blocking Yanez’s view, but he thought he saw something in his hand. Yanez said, “It was dark inside the vehicle.”
Yanez said he didn’t know if Castile’s hand was in his pocket or between the seats. But Yanez said, “I thought he was reaching for a gun.”
Castile’s girlfriend said he was reaching down to release the seatbelt.
At the trial Yanez gave markedly different testimony and said he could see the gun in Castile’s hand. The prosecution didn’t introduce the initial testimony to the special agents into evidence. So the jury didn’t know that right after the shooting, before Yanez could be coached and before he knew what he had to say to keep from being convicted, he said, “I thought he had a gun in his hand.” He already said he couldn’t see Castile’s hand because of the way he had twisted in his seat. What Yanez thought and what he actually saw are very different from a legal standpoint.
The evidence seems to indicate that Castile didn’t have a gun in his hand because when he was pulled out of the car after he was shot, the gun was still in his pocket. Some testimony was that it was deep in his pocket and some that it was near the top of his pocket, but there is no testimony that it was found in his hand or loose in the car. So how did the gun get back in his pocket and how did Yanez see it if the gun was in his pocket and Castile had turned in his seat as Yanez testified the first time he was questioned?
It appears that Castile was shot because he was a black man with dreadlocks who was legally licensed to carry a gun and informed the police officer he had a gun.
Despite what Yanez said, according to the video, Castile followed all of his orders to the best of his ability.
If the penalty for not obeying a police officer’s commands is death, then the police officer has a responsibility to make certain his commands are clearly stated so the person who is about to be killed knows what he is supposed to do to stay alive. There is no reason to think that Castile was not trying to follow Yanez’s orders. He had done nothing up to that point except follow the officer’s orders.
Yanez didn’t order Castile to put his hands on the steering wheel – an easily understood order. He didn’t order Castile to keep his hands where they could be seen. He didn’t order Castile not to move. According to Yanez’s initial testimony to the special agents, he shot Castile because he said, “Don’t reach for it,” and he thought Castile was reaching for it. Not that he saw Castile pull a gun, but that he thought Castile was going to pull a gun because he thought Castile had recently committed an armed robbery.
It’s a small consolation, but the City of St. Anthony agreed to pay Yanez’s mother $3 million.