ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota police officer was acquitted of manslaughter Friday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a black motorist whose girlfriend streamed the aftermath live on Facebook.
Jeronimo Yanez was also cleared of two lesser charges in the July traffic stop in a St. Paul suburb. Jurors deliberated for about 29 hours over five days before reaching the verdict in the death of Castile, who was shot just seconds after informing Yanez that he was carrying a gun.
Yanez, who is Latino, testified that Castile was pulling his gun out of his pocket despite his commands not to do so. The defense also argued Castile was high on marijuana and said that affected his actions.
Castile had a permit for the weapon, and prosecutors questioned whether Yanez ever saw it. They argued that the officer overreacted and that Castile was not a threat.
Castile’s shooting was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S., and the livestreaming of its aftermath by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, attracted even more attention. The public outcry included protests in Minnesota that shut down highways and surrounded the governor’s mansion. Castile’s family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton also weighed in, saying he did not think the shooting would have happened if Castile had been white.
Castile’s family reacted angrily to the verdict. His mother, Valerie Castile, stood and swore when it was read. His sister and others sobbed loudly. Family members immediately tried to leave the courtroom, and did so after security officers briefly barred their way.
Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, though sentencing guidelines suggest around four years is more likely. He also faced two lesser counts of endangering Castile’s girlfriend and her then-4-year-old daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.
The jury got the case Monday, after just five days of testimony, evidence and arguments. The 12-member jury included two blacks. The rest were white. None was Latino.
Yanez testified that he stopped Castile in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights because he thought the 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker looked like one of two men who had robbed a nearby convenience store a few days earlier. Castile’s car had a faulty brake light, giving the 29-year-old officer a legally sufficient pretext for pulling him over, several experts testified.