The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop was acquitted on all charges by a jury Friday, a decision that came nearly a year after the encounter was partially streamed online toÂ a rapt nation in the midst of a painful reckoning over shootings by law enforcement.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled Castileâs car over inÂ Falcon Heights, a suburb near Minneapolis and St. Paul, and the officer later said he thought Castile matched the description of a suspect in a robbery. The stop quickly escalated.
Yanez fired into the car, saying later he thought Castile was going for his gun, a claim Castileâs girlfriend, sitting in the seat next to him, disputed. She began streaming the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live.
Police officers are seldom charged for fatal on-duty shootings and convictions are even less common. Castileâs death came at a time of intense scrutiny of fatal police-involved shootings, and the viral video of his final momentsÂ spurredÂ heated demonstrations that continuedÂ for weeks.
Outside the court, where a small group of protesters gathered Friday afternoon, Castileâs relatives denounced the juryâs decision. CastileâsÂ mother called his death a murder and tied the verdict to what she described as systemic racism in Minnesota.
âThe system continues to fail black people, and it will continue to fail you all,â Valerie Castile said, her anger building. âMy son loved this city and this city killed my son. And the murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?â
Prosecutors charged Yanez with second-degree manslaughter in November, a felony, saying that âno reasonable officerâ would have used deadly force in the same situation. HeÂ also was charged with two felony counts for intentionally discharging the gun.Â Jurors beganÂ deliberating Monday, and the verdict was announced Friday afternoon.
Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said the state continues to grieve with Castileâs family, calling his death âa terrible tragedy, with devastating consequences for everyone involved.â
On Friday evening, several hundred protesters amassed around the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul to decry the verdict.
Officials in St. Anthony, Minn., where Yanez worked as a police officer, said he will not return to the police department from leave after the trial. They said they have decided âthe public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.â
âThe city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer,â the city said in a statement. âThe terms of this agreement will be negotiated in the near future, so details are not available at this time. In the meantime, Officer Yanez will not return to active duty.â
Earl Gray, an attorney for Yanez, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the verdict and the cityâs decision not to retain him as an officer. Speaking to reporters after he left the courthouse, Gray praised the juryâs decision.
âThe verdict was a correct verdict,â he said. âIn my opinion, the case shouldâve never been charged.â
During the trial, jurors heard testimony from dozens of witnesses, including Yanez, who cried on the stand while saying he did not want to shoot Castile. Yanez testified thatÂ he thought his life was in danger at the time, and attorneys for Yanez have argued that Castile caused his own death because of his actions during the traffic stop.
Castile was one of 963 peopleÂ who police officers fatally shot last year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. The fatal encounter in Minnesota was among the most high-profile last year because Diamond Reynolds, Castileâs girlfriend, broadcast the moments after Castileâs shooting online, graphic footage that quickly circulated and drew international attention to the Twin Cities suburbs.
The shooting, on July 6, 2016, became part of an ongoing debate about how law enforcement officers use deadly force, particularly toward black men and boys, and it occurred during a particularly frenzied period that also saw a controversial police shooting in Baton Rouge and an ambush that killed five police officers in Dallas.
In Minnesota, Reynolds calmly documented what happened after Yanez shot Castile, 32, a popular cafeteria worker at a local school. She explained into her phone that Castile was licensed to carry a firearm, and that he had told the officer that before reaching for his wallet.
According to a complaint filed in Minnesota state court,Â police car audio and video recordings show that the gunfire erupted just a minute after Castile stopped his car.
Yanez approached the car window and asked Castile for his license and proof of insurance, which the driver handed over, the complaint states.Â Castile also told Yanez he had a firearm on him, and seconds later, the officer told the driver not to pull out the gun. Castile said he was not taking out the gun, which Reynolds echoed. Yanez screamed, âDonât pull it outâ and pulled his own gun out, firing seven shots at Castile, the complaint states.
The complaint then shifts to quoting from Reynoldsâs Facebook video, saying that the footage âbeginsÂ immediatelyÂ after the shooting and while Yanez had his gun drawn and pointed toward the mortally wounded Castile.â Reynolds says in the footage that Castile was trying to get his ID out before the officer opened fire.
âStay with me,â she said. She added: âThey just killed my boyfriend.â
When Yanez spoke to state investigators a day after the shooting, he told them he was âin fear for my life and my partnerâs life.â Yanez told them that he thought Castile was reaching for the gun.
âI thought I was gonna die,â he told investigators, according to the complaint.
Yanez and his partner, Officer Joseph Kauser, worked for the police force in St. Anthony, another city in the area. They were both considered model students before receiving their degrees in law enforcement in 2010. Both officers were put on leave after the shooting. Authorities did not charge Kauser, saying that he did not touch or remove his gun during the shooting.
During the trial, Kauser defended Yanez, his former partner.
âI think he followed protocol,â testified Kauser, who has since switched departments, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. âI trust him as a partner, and he did what heâs supposed to do in that situation.â
Prosecutors also charged Yanez with endangering the lives of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter, who was also riding in the car that night. On Friday, Reynolds said she was âincredibly disappointedâ with the verdict, saying that Castile cooperated and was stopped only because âhe had a wide nose and looked like a suspectâ to Yanez.
âIt is a sad state of affairs when this type of criminal conduct is condoned simply because Yanez is a policeman,â she said in a statement released by her attorneys. âGod help America.â
Jason Sole, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, called the outcome âmore of the same.â
âHow are you going to kill this guy and still say we have a fair system? How? Man, this behavior has gotta stop, and they canât stop so they are going to continue to kill us,â Sole said outside the courthouse. âWe havenât progressed. â¦ If you can kill me, with a baby in the back seat of a car, and get away with it, not guilty of any wrong doing? I canât honor that system, and I wonât.â
John J. Choi, the Ramsey County attorney who brought the charges last year, said he is disappointed with the outcome, but he called on people who protest to do so peacefully.
âI canât even imagine what this must feel like for the family of Philando Castile, his friends and all those that loved him,â Choi said. âAnd also for Diamond Reynolds. Iâm just really sad for them.â
When he announced the charges last year, Choi said that âno reasonable officer â¦ would have used deadly force under these circumstances.â
Speaking on Friday after the verdict was announced, Choi said he believes Yanez is a good person who made a mistake. But he maintained that nothing Castile did justified his death.
âThe toughest part for me â¦ is that he was so respectful in how he disclosed that he had that firearm,â Choi said. âHe said sir, IÂ have to tell you, IÂ do have a firearm on me. He went beyond what the law requires. He was compliant. He wasnât resisting.â
According to the complaint, one of Yanezâs bullets went through the driverâs seat and hit the back seat. Reynoldsâs daughter was sitting in a car seat on the other side of the car. Another bullet hit the armrest between Castile and Reynolds, the complaint stated.
Yanez pulled over Castile after seeing him driving and saying he looked like a suspect in a convenience store robbery that had occurred days earlier. Authorities later said Castile was not a suspect in that robbery.
In a statement Friday, the St. Paul Public Schools system said they continued âto remember and mourn the loss of âMr. Phil,’â calling him a beloved employee.
Castile was killed during an intense three-day eruption of violence last summer. A day earlier, an officer in Baton Rouge shot and killed Alton Sterling, another encounter captured on a video that quickly went viral. Castileâs death, like Sterlingâs, set off protests across the country.
At one of these protests taking place a day after Castile was shot,Â a lone attacker in Dallas opened fire on police officers, killing five and wounding several others in the deadliest single day for law enforcement since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The attacker in Dallas told police he was angered by the shootings of Castile and Sterling, authorities said.
Yanez was the first officer in Minnesota charged for an on-duty shooting since at least 2005, according to Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, who studies arrests of officers andÂ has kept data since that year. The Star Tribune newspaper reported that Yanez is believed to be the first officer charged with killing a civilian in the stateâs modern history.
After the Castile verdict came out, Stinson said that of the 82 nonfederal law enforcement officers charged with murder or manslaughter for a fatal on-duty shooting, about a third â 29 officers â were convicted of a crime.
Most of those 29 officers who were found guilty on any count were convicted of a lesser offense, he said. Five of the 29 officers found guilty on at least one count were convicted of murder. Including Yanez, 33 officers were not convicted; Yanez is the 17th officer acquitted after a jury trial.Â Another 20 criminal cases are still pending, Stinson said.
Earlier this week, one of those cases âÂ the trial of former Milwaukee police officer charged with homicide for a fatal shooting last year that set off violent unrest there âÂ began unfolding in court.
Convictions in such cases are even rarer than prosecutions. In Baltimore, six police officers were charged in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, but after three officers were found not guilty in separate trials, prosecutors last summer dropped charges against the remaining officers still facing trial.
Mistrials were declared last year in two other trials centered on high-profile police shootings that, like Castileâs death, followedÂ traffic stops and included recordings that were widely shared.
In South Carolina, jurors deadlocked in the case of Michael Slager, a former police officer who fatally shot Walter Scott, a fleeing driver in North Charleston. State prosecutors had vowed to try him again, but Slager pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights charge this year, resolving both cases.
Jurors in Ohio also deadlocked during the first prosecution of Raymond Tensing, a former University of Cincinnati officer who shot Samuel DuBose during an off-campus stop. Prosecutors sought another trial, which began earlier this month.
Jared Goyette in St. Paul contributed to this story, which was first published at 4:02 p.m. and has been updated with new information.