On July 6, 2016, St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez radioed to his partner that he thinks he spotted a suspect in a recent armed robbery. His only identifier: “‘Cause he has a wide-set nose.” After shooting Philando Castile, he told the supervisor on the scene, “I don’t know where it was” in reference to a weapon. Those two statements sum up this case as well as any after 10 days of trial.
It appears that Yanez stopped Castile, as the prosecution police expert witness Jeffry Noble said, “because he was a Black man.” Noble said that Castile should not have been stopped because “a wide-set nose is simply not a distinctive feature.” He also noted that a reasonable officer would not have shot Castile because he told him he had a firearm.
Another way of putting it is, Castile is dead because he was profiled by the St. Anthony cop and he broke the unwritten societal rule established and enforced since slavery that if you are Black, thou shalt not have a gun, legal or illegal.
This was a gut-wrenching 10 days as the mother of Philando Castile, Valerie Castile, had to watch the video of the incident recorded by Yanez’s squad car several times, as well as view the autopsy of her son’s shot-up body.
She heard the vaunted defense team of Earl Gray, Paul Enge and Tom Kelly callously say on two occasions that if Castile’s brake light was working he would still be alive and we wouldn’t be here. (Yes, that was said twice — I was there). The truth is, had Yanez not profiled the deceased and chose to harass him, he would still be with us.
However, Yanez had to listen to prospective jurors tell him to his face what they thought of his actions. A Black woman in her 40s looked him in the eye and said he was “careless” with Philando Castile’s life and that “no one should have to die as a result of a traffic stop.” A White guy said he thought he was guilty. A young White woman cried on the stand as she recalled how she has been given warnings when stopped by police; she didn’t understand why Mr. Castile had to die.
Needless to say, no juror who had a bad experience with the police or had their doubts about the efficacy of law enforcement made the final cut, thus assuring that Yanez would have a jury decidedly “partial” to the system and the narrative of cops as those who serve and protect.
Ten Blacks were in the initial pool of 50 jurors; only two made the final cut. The defense challenged one of them, a young Black woman from Ethiopia, whom they said was too “incompetent” to sit on the jury.
That was laughable considering the make-up of the jury, which included several folks who said they hadn’t heard anything about this case and didn’t know much more about the justice system than what they had seen on TV. One woman hid her decidedly pro-police views from the judge until the prosecution exposed her through her Facebook posts. She even revealed after hiding it initially that she was a friend of the wife of a suburban Maplewood, Minnesota cop who had been killed.
The judge refused to strike her for cause. And the prosecution didn’t use one of its three strikes to unseat her either.
The defense team must have said the word marijuana over 100 times as it sought to make the case that the deceased was responsible for his own death because he was high, causing him to fail to comply with Yanez’s commands. But as the prosecution pointed out, Yanez didn’t really give any commands.
In fact, several cops who testified admitted that if they thought the gun was a threat they would have told the driver to put his hands up or on the steering wheel where they could see them.
The prosecution put on an able and competent, though somewhat dispassionate, case despite being in unfamiliar territory of prosecuting one of their own.
Yanez squeezed out a few tears while on the stand, claiming he didn’t want to shoot Castile. He likely won points with some of the jurors, but family and supporters watched incredulously as he made it appear that he was the victim rather than the person he wronged.
The marijuana argument didn’t withstand the scrutiny of prosecutors. It appeared the prosecution discredited the defense’s toxicologist who couldn’t say definitively after cross- examination if Castile was high on marijuana, or when he got high.
In his initial testimony, he claimed that the THC levels found in the deceased proved that he had gotten high two hours earlier. The prosecution pointed out that according to the science there was no way he could prove that. In closing argument, the prosecution labeled the defense’s toxicologist a practitioner of “junk science.”
The defense’s gun expert was made to look foolish after he claimed that he had timed himself sitting in a car pulling a gun out of his pocket and that someone could pull a gun out in a third of a second. When the prosecution asked if he had conducted his experiment while seat-belted as Castile had been, he admitted he wasn’t in a seat belt.
The defense failed to present evidence showing that Castile resembled the armed robbers of days previous, who had robbed a Super America at gunpoint. The only resemblance Castile bore to the robbers was his race and maybe his wide-set nose, since the vast majority of African Americans have wide noses compared to White Americans.
Despite some of the reports coming out of the corporate newspapers, which unwittingly make Yanez appear credible, the prosecution exposed the fact that Yanez gave several contradictory and inconsistent statements. Yanez had tried to cover up the statements on the stand by saying he was under stress. Jeffrey Paulsen made the cover-up even more clear in the prosecution’s closing argument.
The prosecution pointed out that despite Yanez’s later claims in his Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) testimony that he saw the gun barrel, he oddly failed to tell Roseville officers when they showed up that the motorist had a gun.
It is common practice when cops shoot folks who have a gun to point that out, but Yanez did not. It’s likely he didn’t because he didn’t see a gun as he admitted to the supervisor on the scene.
Yanez’s explanation for this was almost comical; he told prosecutors cross-examining him that he “didn’t see a gun until he saw one.”
The BCA testimony was not played in court, though the prosecution tried to play it in closing arguments. Not playing it for the jury as part of its case was a mistake.
Incidentally, the discovery of the gun by law enforcement on the scene exposed what appeared to be duplicity and collusion in an effort to make Yanez’s story appear credible. The Roseville cop who initiated CPR on the already dead victim claimed that the gun fell out of the dead man’s pocket when paramedics turned him to put him on the board and put him into the ambulance.
The cop said that the gun had been sticking out of Castile’s pocket. When the officer was cross-examined, the prosecutors asked if the gun was sticking out of Castile’s pocket, why didn’t he see it? His response was, he was concentrating on administering aid to Castile.
A firefighter on the scene claimed he heard a clank and then saw a gun. It was revealed in the trial that one of Yanez’s brothers is a local firefighter.
But an EMT who took the stand said the officers patted the dead man down and then dug “deep” into his pocket to get the gun. He repeated his story under questioning, and he repeatedly acknowledged that the officers dug deep into the dead man’s pocket to retrieve the gun.
So, this begs the question: How could the driver have managed to pull out the gun, get shot up, then shove it back down into his pocket? If the gun was out, why wasn’t there any blood on the gun? He was also shot in his right index finger — his trigger finger, which again makes Yanez’s story less credible.
How could he have pulled the gun without his trigger finger, and why weren’t there any marks on the gun? After all, according to Yanez’s statement, the deceased had pulled the gun out.
Diamond Reynolds came across as honest and forthright in her testimony; she consistently stated that Castile never reached for a gun.
Yet defense attorney Earl Gray referred to her as a liar in his closing argument, because she said she was held for five hours without food and water and she couldn’t remember being given $40 for groceries, which had been confiscated for evidence.
However, this writer and other activists on the night of the shooting are aware that she was held against her will for several hours, because we recruited two local attorneys to represent her. Both tried for hours to locate her and were told different stories about where she was being held by St. Anthony and Roseville police in a thinly veiled attempt by law enforcement to prevent her from securing legal protection.
By his own admission (and it can be heard on the video), Yanez says, “Don’t pull it out!” He didn’t yell, “Put it down,” which would have made more sense had the victim actually pulled the gun. And, as Castile lay dying from bullets to the heart, Yanez can be heard on the police video again yelling, “Don’t pull it out” as if he was doing it for posterity’s sake.
The closing argument by prosecuting attorney Paulsen appeared ironclad. According to him, “Yanez was the only one in this entire case who says Castile pulled a gun from his pocket.” He also reiterated that while the defense claimed that Castile was intoxicated, almost as if to say he was drunk and therefore wasn’t listening, it was Yanez who wasn’t listening and admitted that after hearing “weapon” he developed “tunnel vision” and was getting nervous.
Paulsen also responded in his closing arguments to Yanez’s claim that he was nervous, “Everyone on both sides of this case agrees that being nervous is not a reason to shoot and kill someone.”
The prosecution in my opinion made its case. We found that the jury was unable to overcome stereotypes about Black people and Black life. Moreover, they were unable to overcome U.S. propaganda about the role and duties of police in U.S. society, despite evidence to the contrary.
Justice then peace.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.