The Jury Talks Back

6/19/2017

David French: Jury’s Verdict In Philando Castile Case Was A Miscarriage Of Justice

Filed under: Uncategorized — Dana @ 9:39 am

[guest post by Dana]]

Following the acquittal of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez of manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, David French makes the compelling argument that a miscarriage of justice occurred. I’m copying liberally from his post as it’s so well worth the read:

In considering the rightness of the verdict, pay close attention to the transcript of the fatal encounter. Here it is, via CNN:

9:05:00 p.m. — Castile’s vehicle came to a complete stop.

9:05:15 – 9:05:22 p.m. — Yanez approached Castile’s car on the driver’s side.

9:05:22 – 9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez exchanged greetings with Castile and told him of the brake light problem.

9:05:33 p.m. — St. Anthony Police Officer Joseph Kauser, who had arrived as backup, approached Castile’s car on the passenger’s side.

9:05:38 p.m. — Yanez asked for Castile’s driver’s license and proof of insurance.

9:05:48 p.m. — Castile provided Yanez with his proof of insurance card.

9:05:49 – 9:05:52 p.m. — Yanez looked at Castile’s insurance information and then tucked the card in his pocket.

9:05:52 – 9:05:55 p.m. — Castile told Yanez: “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” Before Castile completed the sentence, Yanez interrupted and replied, “Okay” and placed his right hand on the holster of his gun.

9:05:55 – 9:06:02 p.m. — Yanez said “Okay, don’t reach for it, then.” Castile responded: “I’m… I’m … [inaudible] reaching…,” before being again interrupted by Yanez, who said “Don’t pull it out.” Castile responded, “I’m not pulling it out,” and Reynolds said, “He’s not pulling it out.” Yanez screamed: “Don’t pull it out,” and pulled his gun with his right hand. Yanez fired seven shots in the direction of Castile in rapid succession. The seventh shot was fired at 9:06:02 p.m. Kauser did not touch or remove his gun.

9:06:03 – 9:06:04 p.m. — Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!”

9:06:04 – 9:06:05 p.m. — Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.” These were his last words.

9:06:05 – 9:06:09 p.m. — Reynolds said “He wasn’t reaching for it.” Before she completed her sentence, Yanez screamed “Don’t pull it out!” Reynolds responded. “He wasn’t.” Yanez yelled, “Don’t move! F***!”

If you read carefully, you’ll note that it appears that the officer shot Castile for doing exactly what the officer told him to do. Yanez asked for Castile’s license. Castile told him that he had a gun, and the officer – rather than asking for his carry permit, or asking where the gun was, or asking to see Castile’s hands – just says, “Don’t reach for it then.”

At that point, Castile is operating under two commands. Get his license, and don’t reach for his gun. As Castile reaches for his license (following the officer’s orders), and he assures him that he’s not reaching for the gun (also following the officer’s orders). The entire encounter, he assures Yanez that he’s following Yanez’s instructions.

…[T]he evidence indicates that Yanez was afraid for his life. He thought he might have been dealing with a robber (a fact he apparently didn’t tell Castile), and he testified that he smelled marijuana. But Castile was following Yanez’s commands, and It’s simply false that the mere presence of a gun makes the encounter more dangerous for the police. It all depends on who possesses the gun. If he’s a concealed-carry permit-holder, then he’s in one of the most law-abiding demographics in America.

French thus concludes that no matter what caused Yanez to panic and react as he did, he should have been held accountable:

I understand the inherent danger of police work. I also understand the legal responsibilities of men and women who volunteer to put on that uniform, and the legal rights of the citizens they’ve sworn to protect and serve. I’m aware of no evidence that Yanez panicked because Castile was black. But whether he panicked because of race, simply because of the gun, or because of both, he still panicked, and he should have been held accountable. The jury’s verdict was a miscarriage of justice.

According to reports, Yanez will not return to active duty in St. Anthony.

–Dana

The squad dash-cam video has been released, It’s awful to watch in every way. Consider this a warning. Here’s the question: “It’s clear that Yanez believed he was in danger — listen to the escalation between his calm “Don’t reach for it, then” to his second “Don’t pull it out!” before he fired (all of which go by quite quickly). But was that belief reasonable from the movements Castile was making? Bear in mind that if someone is drawing a weapon despite repeated commands not to, the officer is dead if he doesn’t react quickly.”

6 Comments »

  1. Yanez was tried on charges of second degree manslaughter. The Minnesota statute defines the crime in relevant part as:

    A person who causes the death of another […] by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another […]

    The facts of the case do not fit neatly into the statute, because the necessary negligence and conscious chance-taking are difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

    It appears that Yanez made an error in judgment and interpreted Castille’s actions incorrectly. On these facts alone (and obviously I wasn’t at the trial), the events seem appropriate grounds for a wrongful death tort – but it’s far less clear that they represent a criminal act, at least under the statute.

    Comment by Nathan Wagner — 6/19/2017 @ 10:12 am

  2. Excellent comment, Mr. Wagner. I didn’t see the trial either but your analysis and conclusions strike me as spot on. The words from the statute that grab my attention are “culpable negligence,” “unreasonable risk” and “consciously takes chances.” In order:

    1. Was Yanez’s conduct “culpable negligence?” If his actions did not clearly violate departmental regulations (I don’t know but I assume from the verdict and the news reports that they did not), then a jury would have a hard time finding negligence. I don’t think juries like to judge police conduct by what a layman would do in a similar situation.

    2. Did Yanez’s conduct create an “unreasonable risk?” This is a harder question for me and the reason why I think this case is a concern. His conduct seems anxious and out-of-control, which is the opposite of what police training is designed to teach. Perhaps the jury felt Castile’s conduct contributed to the risk and thus Yanez’s conduct wasn’t unreaonable.

    3. Did Yanez “consciously take chances” of causing death? I think a jury might decide the situation escalated but Yanez did not intend to kill Castile. If the standard had been “negligently take chances” the result might have been different. But if that were the standard, it would criminalize wrongful death torts.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/20/2017 @ 6:07 am

  3. Yes, we recently had a case like that in Chicago. The State’s attorney charged involuntary manslaughter and went ahead and proved intent to batter the victim instead of negligence. The defendant was acquitted.

    I think the proper charge in this case was voluntary manslaughter. The defendant intentionally shot Castile believing he was acting in self-defense but that belief was unreasonable. That’s what the fact most tended to prove. Otherwise, you’re just confusing the jury.

    Comment by nk — 6/20/2017 @ 11:00 pm

  4. It looks that way to me, too, based solely on the video. But what matters is the jury’s opinion, not mine.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/21/2017 @ 7:30 am

  5. The prosecutor’s statement suggests to me that he also believed the issue was whether the officer’s response was reasonable:

    “To justify the use of deadly force, it is not enough, however, for the police officer to merely express a subjective fear of death or great bodily harm. Unreasonable fear cannot justify the use of deadly force. The use of deadly force must be objectively reasonable and necessary, given the totality of the circumstances. Based upon our thorough and exhaustive review of the facts of this case, it is my conclusion that the use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified, and that sufficient facts exist to prove that to be true. Accordingly, we filed a criminal complaint this morning in Ramsey Co.” — Ramsey County Attorney John Choi

    The jury initially voted 10-2 for acquittal. The two holdouts ultimately changed their minds after the jury “dissected” the words of the statute for 5 hours. The holdouts were white.

    Comment by DRJ — 6/21/2017 @ 10:26 am

  6. I agree. For what it’s worth, though, Minnesota’s first degree (voluntary) manslaughter statute is drawn more narrowly than other voluntary manslaughter statutes. It requires that the person:

    (1) intentionally causes the death of another person in the heat of passion provoked by such words or acts of another as would provoke a person of ordinary self-control under like circumstances […]

    or, still an imperfect fit:

    (3) intentionally causes the death of another person because the actor is coerced by threats made by someone other than the actor’s coconspirator and which cause the actor reasonably to believe that the act performed by the actor is the only means of preventing imminent death to the actor or another […].

    Minnesota has a separate third degree murder statute, but it requires a depraved mind.

    Comment by Nathan Wagner — 6/21/2017 @ 5:57 pm

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