Officer who killed black motorist to take the stand Friday

Posted June 10, 2017

The Minnesota officer facing manslaughter charges for fatally shooting a black man during a traffic stop a year ago took the stand on Friday and gave emotional testimony saying "he had no choice" when he pulled his gun.

Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, is accused of fatally shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016.

Squad auto video recorded him telling a supervisor after the shooting that he did not know where the gun was, although it also recorded him saying he told Castile to take his hand off it. Witnesses testified that the gun was in a pocket of Castile's shorts when paramedics removed him from his vehicle.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez says he thought he was going to die, and his wife and baby daughter's face popped into his mind just before he fatally shot motorist Philando Castile.

Defense attorneys have argued Castile was stoned at the time of the shooting, which happened in the seconds after he informed Yanez that he was carrying a gun.

Castile was roughly the same age, same race and had similar dreadlocks to the robbery suspect, Yanez testified.

Kapelsohn testified that he did a similar experiment in April inside Castile's actual vehicle and testified that the gun was within 1/8 of an inch from the pocket's opening even without pulling it out.

On the squad vehicle video, Castile can be heard saying, "I'm not pulling it out", as Yanez opened fire.

Other witnesses testified about where Castile's gun was found after he was removed from the auto, either hanging from a pocket, falling out of a pocket and hitting the ground or deep in a pocket.

Emanuel Kapelsohn, a use-of-force expert, argued that Yanez was justified to open fire if he had reasonable belief that Castile was drawing a firearm.

He went on to say that Yanez used "due caution" to avoid injury to the two passengers in the auto - Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter - when he stepped to the left of the vehicle and pointed his gun downward before firing. Others were asked to weigh in on Yanez's decision not to radio his traffic stop into dispatch if he suspected an armed robber might be in the auto.

"Then why did you say, 'I thought, '" Dusterhoft asked.

A key issue in the trial is what Yanez saw before he fired seven shots into Castile's vehicle.

Prompted by questions by defense attorney Earl Gray, Dutton said he had no doubt that Yanez's use of deadly force was reasonable. The gun was found in Castile's pocket after the shooting.

Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Monday.

He testified Thursday that Yanez followed protocol when he radioed his police partner in another squad auto to tell him about a driver who resembled a suspect in a recent armed robbery.

Prosecutors rested their case against Yanez Thursday morning.

Yanez, who worked for the St. Anthony, Minnesota, police department, is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of risky discharge of a firearm.

He was one of the last witnesses called by the defense Friday and news media from across the country packed the courtroom to listen to his account of the shooting. He said he was convinced that Castile reached for the gun because of Yanez's comments to investigators that he saw Castile's hand form a C-shaped grip of the sort that would be used to grab a thick-gripped pistol. Kapelsohn disagreed, saying the central question to him was whether Yanez "reasonably believed that Castile was pulling out a firearm". Yanez is charged with manslaughter.

Castile had told the officer moments earlier he was carrying a gun.

Yanez is expected to testify in his defense either Friday afternoon or Monday.

"Apparently, the officer perceived that Mr. Castile was pulling the gun out", Kapelsohn said, according to the Star Tribune.

In addition, Kapelsohn went to the impound lot where Castile's white Oldsmobile is stored, and said he placed plastic sheeting in the vehicle and sat in the auto.

Kapelsohn said three-eighths of inch of the butt of the gun was left below the lip of the pocket.

Whether Yanez saw the gun is a key issue. He is also certified in instructing police defense tactics, handgun retention and police use of force.

He said Castile's left hand was on the steering wheel and his right hand was below it.