A jury in the U.S. state of Minnesota has acquitted a police officer who fatally shot a black motorist during a traffic stop, a verdict that brought cries of dismay from the dead man’s family and supporters in the courtroom.
St. Anthony, the small city that employed Jeronimo Yanez as a policeman dismissed him immediately after he was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter.
“The public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city,” a statement on the city’s website said.
Yanez, 29, has not been on active duty since the shooting last July.
Much of the incident in which Philando Castile, 32, was shot in his car was streamed live on social media. Castile’s girlfriend, sitting beside him as Yanez fired seven shots, said she recorded video of the scene because she feared that she and her 4-year-old daughter, in the car’s rear seat, were in danger.
The girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said on the video and testified in court that Castile had been reaching for his driver’s license to comply with the policeman’s order.
Yanez said he acted because he feared for his life and thought Castile was reaching for a gun. The dead man had told the policeman he had a gun elsewhere in the car. The last words he spoke before dying were, “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
Questioned by his attorney during the trial, Yanez said: “I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die. I had no other choice.”
Prosecutors in St. Paul, Minnesota, said recordings from the car — both from Reynolds’ phone and from a dashboard camera — showed that Castile was courteous and nonthreatening, and they told the court there was no justification for Yanez’s action.
Moans of dismay and weeping swept through the courtroom after the verdict was announced. Court officers hustled Yanez and the jurors out of the room.
‘Mad as hell’
The dead man’s mother, Valerie Castile, speaking to reporters outside the court afterward, said: “I’m mad as hell right now. Yes, I am. My firstborn son died. … Just because he [Yanez] was a police officer, that makes it OK.”
Yanez, who is Latino, testified he stopped Castile in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb, because he thought Castile resembled someone who had robbed a nearby store several days earlier. Castile’s family said he was profiled because of his race, African-American.
Circumstances of the shooting led to weeks of protests last year in St. Paul and the adjoining city of Minneapolis, and fueled a national debate about the appropriate use of force by police against racial minorities.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the courtroom late Friday, and a rally was planned later in the evening at the state Capitol in St. Paul. The city’s mayor, Chris Coleman, ordered community centers to remain open for public discussions, and he appealed for calm.
“As people across our city, country and country react to the jury’s verdict,” he said, “I urge each of us to move forward in a way that is peaceful and respectful of everyone — residents, demonstrators and police officers alike.”