Earlier this year I wrote a couple of posts in the aftermath of the shooting of Philando Castile, a cafeteria supervisor in a St. Paul elementary school. Castile was a concealed carry permit holder who was shot during a traffic stop by a panicked policeman in Falcon Heights, not far from where I used to live at the edge of Minneapolis.
(First post: Not so much about Mr. Castile as about bumper stickers and jumping to conclusions.)
(Second post: About Mr. Castile -- appropriately -- being laid to rest from the Catholic Cathedral of St. Paul at the request of his mother.)
There is an update in the case. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced today that the officer who killed Mr. Castile is to be charged with second-degree manslaughter in Mr. Castile's death, as well as -- because of the woman and child who were in the car -- two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
From the linked Minnesota Public Radio article:
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Wednesday that he has charged police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the July 6 killing of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights.
..."I know my decision will be difficult for some in our community to accept, but in order to achieve justice we must be willing to do the right thing no matter how hard it may seem," Choi said while announcing the charges.
Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor, was shot by Yanez after he was pulled over during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on the night of July 6.
Minnesota law justifies the use of deadly force by a police officer, Choi said, only when it's necessary to protect the officer or others from great bodily harm or death. He said the use of Yanez's use of force was not justified.
...Choi went over the timeline leading up to Castile's death. He said Yanez signaled to another officer that he was pulling Castile's car over because his "wide-set nose" matched the description of a robbery suspect.
Yanez turned on his squad lights, and Castile pulled over eight seconds later. It was just one minute later that Yanez shot Castile seven times, killing him.
Castile handed over his insurance card and "calmly" told Yanez that he had a firearm. Yanez said, "OK, don't reach for it then." Castile told Yanez he wasn't pulling out the gun. Yanez screamed, "Don't pull it out," and took his firearm out of the holster. He fired.
"Officer Yanez pulled his left arm out of the car and then fired seven shots in rapid succession into the vehicle," Choi said. "Philando Castile moaned and said his final words, 'I wasn't reaching for it.' "
"No reasonable officer, knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time, would have used deadly force under these circumstances," Choi said. "The totality of the circumstances indicate that Officer Yanez's use of deadly force against Philando Castile during the July 6 death was not necessary, was objectively unreasonable and was inconsistent with generally accepted police practices."
I am seeing mostly praise of the DA's office, with some anger that the charge is manslaughter instead of murder or that the maximum sentence (ten years in prison) is too low -- it's on the order of some sentences for nonviolent sale of drugs here in Minnesota.
I can't really speak to the sentencing, but reading the Minnesota statutes defining second-degree manslaughter versus the ones defining homicide, it strikes me that the charge is correct if the facts are as stated.
- Second degree manslaughter is defined in MN as causing the death of another by "culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another."
- Second-degree murder requires intent to kill, for which I doubt there's evidence, or else that the homicide took place during commission of a crime or in violation of a restraining order.
- Murder in the third degree requires "perpetrating an act eminently dangerous to others and evincing a depraved mind, without regard for human life" -- you could certainly make an argument that the shooter appeared to act without regard for Mr. Castile's life, but it's tough to prove that.
- An argument that the shooter acted in self-defense requires a finding that the shooter reasonably believed deadly force was necessary to prevent grave harm or loss of life -- and the DA affirmed today that he believes the officer's fear was not reasonable.
This is a very, very sad case. I am glad to see that it was investigated thoroughly and that charges were brought. Many people harshly criticized Ms. Diamond Reynolds, Mr. Castile's girlfriend whose four-year-old daughter was with them in the car, for having the presence of mind to send out live-streaming video of the shrieking officer and the bleeding, dying man in the front seat. It was as if her cool head and quick thinking was itself somehow offensive, a proof of guilt or of an agenda. That video -- along with some from the officer's dash-cam -- turned out to be crucial evidence that led to the DA's bringing charges.
Community reporting works.
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One of the things that disturbed me about the media coverage of Mr. Castile's death was the relative silence of gun rights organizations, especially the NRA. The story that quickly spread was one of a man who had a legal permit to carry a weapon in Minnesota, was not carrying in violation of any laws, and who did everything he was supposed to do when pulled over for the traffic stop. Surely the apparently unprovoked killing of a cooperating concealed-carry permit holder by a jumpy cop should raise the ire of Second Amendment groups, as it's definitely going to have a chilling effect on the exercise of Second Amendment rights.
Yet the NRA took two days to make a statement at all, and when it finally did, it made a very weak one. This left a lot of people, including me, wondering if they were only prepared to fight for the rights of white gun owners.
Minnesota law does not require permit holders to reveal they are carrying a gun unless they are asked by police....Castile did not say he had a permit, but he did say he had a gun. In general, that is what firearms instructors teach, according to Rob Doar, a leader of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus and a firearms safety instructor.
Castile did not reach for a gun, did not move his hands and did not resist. Doar says Castile appeared to do everything by the book.
“I recommend that you turn the car off, you turn the lights on in the vehicle, you keep your hands on the wheel,” Doar said. “I do believe that Philando Castile acted as a responsible permit holder.”
I'm still not seeing a lot of media reports covering the angle of "Do people who aren't white have full access to their Second Amendment rights?" Let's hope that some news organizations start looking into it during the upcoming -- probably high-profile -- manslaughter trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez.