Ramsey County attorney John Choi, surrounded by other law enforcement officials, announces that officer Jeronimo Yanez will face three charges for killing Philando Castile on July 6 during a press conference on Wednesday in St. Paul, Minn. (David Joles/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS)

Police officer will face felony charges in death of Philando Castile

MINNEAPOLIS — Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced during a Wednesday morning press conference that officer Jeronimo Yanez will face three charges for shooting and killing Philando Castile on July 6.

Choi said it was his conclusion that “use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified.” Yanez was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

Castile, 32, was fatally shot July 6 by Yanez during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. A video recorded by Castile’s girlfriend, showing him bleeding in the car while the officer stood nearby, touched off widespread outrage and protests.

Choi’s office has been reviewing evidence in the shooting since Sept. 28, when the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension handed him its findings. Choi said Wednesday he chose to make the decision on charging himself, rather than turning the case over to a grand jury.

In explaining how Yanez’s actions did not meet the legal standard for justified use of deadly force, Choi said “it is not enough … to express subjective fear of death or great bodily harm.”

The charges come a year and a day after Minneapolis police fatally shot Jamar Clark, a case that Choi has used as guidance in his handling of the Castile shooting. Choi has noted that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman reviewed evidence in the Clark case for seven weeks before deciding that the officers should not be criminally charged in Clark’s death. Freeman did not take the Clark case to a grand jury, going against long-held practices in Minnesota.

Castile’s death further fueled activists’ call for reform in policing and for criminal charges against cops who kill. Activists said their numbers and movement have grown and strengthened in the year since Clark was killed, and hope that plays a role in changing the outcome of Castile’s shooting.

Several protesters rallied outside the Ramsey County Courthouse on Nov. 10 in support of Castile’s cousin, Louis B. Hunter, who was scheduled to appear in court that day for protesting on Interstate 94.

“The sense of community certainly hasn’t gone away,” said Eli Lartey, a 19-year-old activist who has been arrested multiple times at demonstrations, and who spoke at Hunter’s rally.

Protesters called for a dismissal of all felony charges against Hunter, who is accused of throwing rocks and construction debris at police officers during the July 9 protest that drew about 500 people on I-94. Dozens of other activists charged with lesser charges vowed not to settle their cases while Hunter remains charged.

Hunter said that although he feels authorities have done nothing to improve their policing and use-of-force in the last year, solidarity has grown among activists.

“I’m blessed to have people on the side with me,” Hunter said after he pleaded not guilty at his hearing. “They’re there for me.”

But Lartey and Hunter said there hasn’t been much trust built between activists and law enforcement.

“There’s almost this narrative of war between demonstrators and police,” said Lartey, whose name was specifically called out over a police megaphone during a different demonstration outside the Ramsey County courthouse earlier in the year. “Everything that happened with the Jamar Clark case seems to be happening with the Philando Castile case.

“I would say I have trust in the constituents’ ability to change (the criminal justice system) more than I did a year ago, but because of the way I’ve been treated and targeted as an activist, I have less trust in the police themselves.”

Pastor Danny Givens Jr., a clergy liaison with Black Lives Matter, and who rallied for Hunter and attended a memorial for Clark Wednesday, said a decision in the Castile case is a turning point in the fight for justice.

“I wouldn’t say (law enforcement and authorities) are listening more,” Givens said. “I would say they’re reacting more now. We hope the reactivity will create a platform where they listen … and we’re forcing that … after weeks and months of nonviolent demonstrations.

“The Castile decision is the bow of the boat of justice that we’re fighting for …”

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