What the police officer who shot Philando Castile said about the shooting – Washington Post
The police officer said he had no choice.
Hours earlier, Jeronimo Yanez had fatally shot Philando Castile, who worked for a nearby school, during a traffic stop outside the Twin Cities. The officer said Castile kept moving even though he told him not to, reaching down and putting his hand on something.
“I thought he had a gun in his hand,” Yanez said later. Yanez feared for his life, he said, and the lives of his partner as well as the two passengers in the car: Castile’s girlfriend and her young daughter. Recounting the shooting the following day, Yanez said: “I thought I was gonna die. And, I was scared because, I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do.”
So he opened fire.
The encounter on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights, Minn., escalated to gunfire in a matter of seconds, and moments later, the scene began spreading worldwide, broadcast live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, while she was sitting next to him in the car. She said Castile had been shot while reaching for his ID after letting the officer know he had a firearm.
The following day, Yanez — then a 28-year-old officer with the St. Anthony, Minn., police department — sat down to be interviewed by state investigators. Castile’s name dominated news headlines, his death in July 2016 the latest in a string of fatal police encounters that prompted outrage nationwide. Reynolds’s footage from inside Castile’s Oldsmobile, unlike any other account of a police shooting, was everywhere.
Yanez would be charged with manslaughter, with demonstrators decrying his actions, the state’s governor questioning the shooting and a county prosecutor assailing him. A jury acquitted him last week of manslaughter and two counts of endangering Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter. The same day, St. Anthony officials said Yanez would not return to their police force.
For most of the public, the only account they knew of the shooting was from Reynolds’s video, streamed live from the Oldsmobile while blood soaked into Castile’s white T-shirt. That changed Tuesday. Four days after Yanez was acquitted and nearly a year after Castile was killed, state officials released a police dashboard camera recording of the shooting itself, along with other recordings and scores of transcripts, reports and other documents.
The dash-cam video was shown during Yanez’s trial and its contents described in court documents, but the recording itself was not widely shared until Tuesday, when it rippled across social media, joining a catalogue of grim videos documenting police shootings from Cincinnati to North Charleston, S.C. The recordings and documents were released Tuesday “as they were presented in court, but without the context that we were able to provide at trial,” said a spokesman for Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi, who prosecuted the case.
Earl Gray, an attorney for Yanez, did not respond to requests for comment regarding the acquittal last week or the evidence released Tuesday. After Yanez was acquitted, Gray told reporters outside the courthouse that “the case should’ve never been charged.”
This new video showed how quickly the encounter escalated, how fast it shifted when Castile told the officer about the gun he was legally carrying. Along with the footage of the shooting itself, officials also released another account of the shooting: a transcript of Yanez’s interview with two special agents from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency investigating the shooting.
Like the dash-cam footage, Yanez’s comments during his interview were previously revealed in court documents and during his trial, but not widely seen. (According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, an audio recording of Yanez’s full interview with investigators was never played during the trial, and the judge denied a request from jurors to review a transcript during deliberations.) They capture a young officer who says he saw a gun and apparently connected his decision to open fire with the smell of marijuana in the car.
On July 7, about 16 hours after fatally shooting Castile, Yanez sat down with the investigators. Yanez told them he stopped Castile not for a broken taillight, as he told the driver when the stop began, but because he thought Castile matched the description of a suspect in a robbery days earlier.
The first thing he noticed when approaching the car, Yanez told investigators, was the smell of burning marijuana, according to the verbatim transcripts of the interview.
“I told them the reason for the traffic stop and then I wasn’t going to say anything about the marijuana yet because I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner. Um, he didn’t make direct eye contact with me and it was very hard to hear him, Uh he was almost mumbling when he was talking to me. And he was directing his voice away from me as he was speaking and as I was asking questions. Uh he kept his, hands in view and then I uh I believe I asked for, his license and insurance. And then I believe they told me, they asked for the reason for my traffic stop. And I told ’em the reason was the only, I think I told ’em the only rea, the reason I pulled you over is because the only active brake light working was the rear passenger side brake light.”
The traffic stop quickly shifted, Yanez said, when Castile told him he had a gun. Outside the car, Yanez could be seen sliding his hand onto his gun. According to Yanez, at the same time, he saw Castile “reaching down between his right leg, his right thigh area and the center console.”
The officer told investigators later that the marijuana smell remained in his mind, saying that because of the odor, he didn’t know whether Castile had the gun “for protection” from a drug dealer or people trying to rob him.
The dash-cam video showed what happened next. Yanez told Castile not to reach for the gun, and Castile said he was not reaching for it, which Reynolds echoed. Yanez yelled: “Don’t pull it out!” Yanez drew his gun, pushed it inside the car and fired seven shots.
Reynolds’s Facebook Live video began moments later, and the dash-cam continued recording from inside Yanez’s car. Neither video captured Castile’s movements inside his car in the moments before he was shot.
According to Yanez, before he opened fire, Castile kept moving his hand. From the transcript:
Yanez: “I, believe I continued to tell him don’t do it or don’t reach for it and he still continued to move. And, it appeared to me that be had no regard to what I was saying. He didn’t care what I was saying. He still reached down. … And, at that point I, was scared and I was, in fear for my life and my partner’s life. And for the little girl in the back and the front seat passenger and he dropped his hand down and, can’t remember what I was telling him but I was telling something as his hand went down I think. And, he put his hand around something. And his hand made like a C shape type um type shape and it appeared to me that he was wrapping something around his fingers and almost like if I were to put my uh hand around my gun like putting my hand up to the butt of the gun.”
Yanez: “That’s what it appeared to me.”
Yanez then said he kept seeing Castile moving his hand and “saw something in his hand,” adding that the driver “had no regard for what I was saying. Didn’t follow my direction.”
In the video recordings, Reynolds can be heard disputing this from inside the car, saying that Castile, who had been asked for his license when the stop began, was reaching for his ID, not for a gun.
Yanez, though, said he believed Castile had grabbed a gun:
“I know he had an object and it was dark. And he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out I, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die. And, I was scared because, I didn’t know if he was gonna, I didn’t know what he was gonna do. He just had somethin’ uh his hands and he, the first words that he said to me were, some of the first words he said is that he had a gun. And I thought he was reaching for the gun. I thought he had the gun in his hand, in his right hand. And I thought he had it enough to where all he had to do is just pull it out, point it at me, move his trigger finger down on the trigger and let off rounds. And I had no other option than, to take out my firearm and, and I shot. Um I shot him.”
Yanez said he did not remember the first two shots, but he remembered the last two. He also said he tried directing his gunfire “down as best I could,” to avoid Reynolds and her daughter. In his interview, Yanez said again moments later that he thought he saw Castile’s gun in his hands, and when asked about this later, Yanez said it looked to him like Yanez’s hand was “wrapped around the butt of a gun.”