The police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer was found not guilty on all charges by a Minnesota jury Friday afternoon.
After Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Castile over for a broken taillight in Falcon Heights, Minnesota last July, Castile told Yanez that he had a licensed firearm in the car, according to dashcam footage shown at Yanez’s trial. Castile then reached down, allegedly for his identification.
Yanez opened fire, sending seven bullets into the car and killing Castile.
Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car, and Reynolds broadcasted the encounter’s aftermath on Facebook Live. That video — where Reynolds begged Castile to “Stay with me,” as he bled out in the car — propelled the case to international attention and sparked protests across the country, as Castile’s name was added to the list of black men that activists say were unjustly killed by police.
In reaching their not guilty verdict, the jurors sorted through conflicting narratives about what, exactly, Castile was doing when he reached down, and just how much of a threat Yanez perceived Castile to be. Lawyers for the defense argued that Castile’s reach violated Yanez’s commands not to go for his weapon, that Yanez believed Castile to be stoned, and that Castile matched the description of a robbery suspect. Prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen, meanwhile, pointed out that it didn’t make sense for a man who planned to shoot a police officer to tell him about his gun. Instead, he argued, Yanez was “jumping to conclusions without engaging in the dialogue he was trained to have in a citizen encounter like this.”
Yanez, thought to be the first police officer in Minnesota history to be charged with an on-duty fatal shooting, would’ve faced up to 20 years in prison if he’d been found guilty. He faced one charge of second-degree manslaughter and another to charges of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety — charges brought because the bullets could have hit Reynolds and her daughter.
“Officer Yanez joins a long and still growing list of police officers who have killed people of color with impunity,” the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund said in a statement Friday. “This incident seemed so egregious and avoidable that we hoped that this time, it might be different — that this time, justice might be served. Because if the government can take your life and no one is held responsible you are a second-class citizen, if not fully dehumanized in the eyes of the law. That is the devastating message this verdict, along with all those similar acquittals before it, sends to communities of color across the nation.”
“I am so disappointed in the state of Minnesota,” Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, told reporters after the verdict was announced, adding that the legal system continues “to fail black people.” “My son loved Minnesota. He had one tattoo on his body and it was of the Twin Cities. My son loved this city, and the city killed my son and the murderer gets away.”