The Minnesota police officer on trial for murder in the shooting death of a black motorist testified the subject had his hand on a gun. A Facebook video live streamed by the victim’s girlfriend in the car immediately after the man was shot went viral.
The woman who videoed the incident, Diamond Reynolds, was in the car with her four-year-old daughter. She narrated as Philando Castile lay dying.
St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot the 32-year-old Castile July 6 after a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb in St. Paul, Minnesota. At the time, there was a question as to whether Castile was a suspect in a recent convenience store robbery.
Officer Yanez now faces charges of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a weapon and is on trial before a jury in Minnesota.
His lawyer said after the incident, “I can tell you that the stop of the vehicle for an equipment violation was not the only reason for the stop.”
A handgun was recovered at the scene.
During the lifestream, Reynolds said, “police just shot my boyfriend for no apparent reason.”
She told the officer, “You shot four bullets into him, Sir. He was just getting his license and registration, Sir.” She also said they were pulled over for a busted taillight. Reynolds implied that Castile was simply reaching for his identification in his pocket as instructed by the officer and that he told the officer he had a firearm and was a concealed handgun license holder.
Reynolds’ video of the incident posted here has received almost 1,900,000 views.
During Yanez’ trial on Wednesday, a police force expert testified that the officer was justified in his use of force.
Joe Dutton told jurors “When Yanez saw the C-shaped grip of Castile’s hand, he had to react to the actions of Mr. Castile,” reported the CBS affiliate in Minnesota. He added, “This truly was a split-second decision, there wasn’t time to do anything else.”
A firefighter first-responder testified that he heard Castile’s gun drop to the ground from his pocket when he put him on a stretcher.
On Friday, Officer Yanez took the stand in his defense. He testified that he stopped Castile’s car after Castile drove past him and gave him a “deer in the headlights” look that made him suspicious. “It’s a trigger,” he testified.
The officer was already on alert after the convenience store robbery and Castile looked like one of the robbery suspects. He radioed his partner that he was going to pull the car over because “[t]he two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery,” Minnesota’s Star Tribune reported. He also had legal grounds to pull Castile over because he was driving with a broken brake light.
Yanez walked up to the car, and he could smell burnt or burning marijuana, he testified.
The officer told the jury he saw Castile’s hand on the gun and Castile did not follow his instructions not to reach for the gun. He told the jury, “I told him, ‘Don’t pull it out,” but when he saw Castile pull out the top of the gun, “That’s when I engaged Mr. Castile and shot him.”
The officer testified when he saw Castile’s gun, “my family popped into my head. My wife. My baby girl.” “I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile at all.” “Those were not my intentions.”
After the shooting, Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, reportedly told CNN, “I think he was just black in the wrong place.”
Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton further fanned the flame of racial tension when he asked at a press conference after the shooting – “Would this have happened if the driver and passenger were white?” He answered his question saying – “I don’t think it would have,” reported Fox 9 News in Minneapolis-St.Paul.
As can be heard in the video, the officer told the girlfriend, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off of it.” This occurs at the 40-second mark in the video.
Racial tensions were spread by the video, and by Reynolds’ statements to crowds and reporters after the shooting.
Alton Sterling had also just been shot in Louisiana by Baton Rouge police on July 5.
The fatal shooting of Philando Castile on July 6 preceded the execution of five police officers in Dallas, Texas. A sniper executed the officers and wounded six others in a horrific melee the night of July 7.
Breitbart Texas reported that the Dallas murder suspect was a member of the Houston New Black Panther Party and members of the group had called for the killing of officers after the death of Sandra Bland at the Waller County, Texas, jail.
Three days after Castile’s shooting, Reuters reported that Yanez’ lawyer said, “This incident had nothing to do with the race of the driver.” He added, “It had everything to do with the presence of a gun.”
Castile tested positive for THC, the component in marijuana that gives the person ingesting it a high. While it was acknowledged that smoking marijuana could impair judgment and the ability to follow instructions, a toxicologist testified that the agent is stored in body fat and is released into the blood when a person dies. It is, therefore, more difficult he said, to accurately measure whether Castile was intoxicated when he was pulled over.