This morning, more than four months after Officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi announced that he is charging the officer with second degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
In announcing his decision, Choi said he believes that “no reasonable officer, knowing, hearing, or seeing what Yanez did, would’ve used deadly force under those circumstances.”
The killing of Castile, 32, almost immediately became national news in part because his fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, broadcast its immediate aftermath on Facebook Live. Diamond later said that she “wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do.” Millions of people around the world have seen the video, which prompted protests nationwide. Coming just one day after police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fatally shot Alton Sterling, and one day before a former Army reservist shot and killed five officers in Dallas, Castile’s death helped spark a national conversation about race relations, police brutality, and the role of technology in social activism.
Choi started reviewing evidence in the case on Sept 28, when the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation handed over the results of its investigation, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune. Choi made the somewhat unusual step of deciding to file charges himself instead of convening a grand jury.
“Immersed with the facts and law,” Choi says, “my conscience tells me it would be wrong to ask a grand jury to make this decision when I know in my heart what needs to be done. In order to achieve justice, we must be willing to do the right thing, no matter how hard it will seem.”
Yanez, who is to appear in court Friday, becomes the first Minnesota law enforcement officer in at least 35 years to face criminal charges in a fatal shooting. He also becomes the latest law enforcement official to be charged in connection with the death of an unarmed black man. New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo was charged in the killing of Staten Island resident Eric Garner, and Officer Darren Wilson charged in the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Grand juries declined to indict both men, effectively ending the investigations and exonerating the officers.
In explaining his decision that Yanez was not justified in shooting Castile, Choi said, “the use of deadly force is justified only when necessary to protect the officer or others.” Evidence in the case included Castile’s having told Yanez he had a permit for the firearm in his glovebox, and Yanez telling authorities he believed Castile was reaching for his gun. But Choi said, “Unreasonabale fear cannot justify the use of deadly force.”
Choi also disclosed Castile’s dying words: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”