It works nearly 100 percent of the time—even with clear video evidence—so it’s no surprise that the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile said, “I thought I was going to die,” to explain his actions on that fateful day.
Wiping away tears, St. Anthony, Minn., Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez on Friday sought to explain to the world why he chose to shoot Castile during a routine traffic stop while Castile’s girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter looked on.
“I had no other choice,” said Yanez during the first day of testimony in his trial. “I was forced to engage Mr. Castile. He was not complying with my directions.”
Yanez, 29, is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm in the July 6, 2016, shooting of Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, Minn. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, calmly livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook as Castile bled to death on video.
The Star Tribune reports that Yanez testified that he felt his life was in danger when he saw Castile “grab a gun” near his right thigh after he had been ordered not to reach for it. Yanez told the court that visions of his wife and baby girl flashed through his mind.
The police officer began to cry. “I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile at all,” he replied. “Those were not my intentions.”
Yanez testified that he was on high alert because four days earlier he had responded to an armed robbery of a nearby convenience store where video showed two black men pointing guns at a clerk.
Yanez was parked in his squad car when he saw Castile drive by on July 6 and they supposedly made eye contact, from which he got “strong suspicions” about Castile.
“He gave me a deer-in-the-headlights look,” Yanez said. “It’s a trigger.”
Yanez said that Castile had a nonworking brake light, which gave him legal grounds to stop him.
He said he smelled marijuana as he walked up to Castile’s Oldsmobile. He said that he told him about the brake light and asked for his license and insurance.
“Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me,” Castile volunteered, according to the criminal complaint filed against Yanez.
“I told him, ‘Don’t pull it out,’ “ Yanez testified in court.
Castile reached to his right (perhaps to hand the officer his license—he had only given him his insurance) and allegedly made a C-shape with his right hand, Yanez said, saying, “he continued to pull his firearm out of his pocket.”
The Star Tribune reports that Kelly tried to head off the prosecution’s cross-examination by asking Yanez why he told his supervisor after the shooting that he “didn’t know where the gun was.”
“I was telling [my supervisor] I didn’t see the gun until I saw one,” Yanez answered. “I didn’t know where it was on Philando Castile’s person.”
Prosecutors believe that Yanez’s failure to use the word “gun” to alert responding officers at the scene and his language with investigators indicate that he never saw Castile’s gun, which was later recovered from his right front shorts pocket.
“You didn’t say ‘firearm,’” Assistant Ramsey County, Minn., Attorney Rick Dusterhoft said of Yanez’s interview.
“Correct,” Yanez said.
“You didn’t say he grabbed a gun,” Dusterhoft said. “ … You didn’t say ‘firearm.’ You said ‘object,’ correct?”
“Correct,” Yanez said. “ … My mind was all over the place because I was under a tremendous amount of stress. It was a firearm.”
Jurors heard testimony from several witnesses this week and are expected to begin deliberations Monday after final arguments.
Read more at the Star Tribune.