Minn. officer charged in deadly shooting captured live on Facebook

Last Updated Nov 16, 2016 3:14 PM EST

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Wednesday that after investigating the police shooting death of Philando Castile, the prosecutor has decided to charge the officer who fired with second-degree manslaughter.

“My conscience tells me that it would be wrong for me to ask a grand jury to make this decision when I know what needs to be done,” Choi said.

Prosecutors have been considering charges against St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who killed Philando Castile, 32, during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights. Castile was shot 7 times, Choi said.

Yanez was also charged with two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm, Choi said.

In a separate press conference Wednesday, members of Castile’s family praised Choi’s decision.

“We are here in solidarity, my family and I, to support that decision,” said Castile’s mother, Valerie. 

The family’s attorney, Glenda Hatchett, called the charging decision “historic.”

The shooting’s gruesome aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was with him in the car along with her four-year-old daughter. The woman said Castile was shot several times while reaching for his ID after telling Yanez he had a gun permit and was armed. 

Yanez’s attorney, Tom Kelly, has said Yanez, who is Latino, was reacting to the presence of a gun, and that one reason Yanez pulled Castile over was because he thought he looked like a possible match for an armed robbery suspect.

Choi said Wednesday that Yanez believed Castile looked like the suspect because of his “wide set nose.”

Yanez was aware that there were no open warrants for Castile’s arrest when he pulled Castile over, Choi said. When Yanez put on his siren, at 9:05 p.m., Castile immediately complied, Choi said. 

The prosecutor said dashboard camera video and audio from Yanez’s vehicle captured the incident. That video will not be released while the case is ongoing, Choi said.

Choi said soon after Yanez approached Castile’s car, Castile alerted the officer that he had a firearm, which he was licensed to carry. 

Yanez repeatedly yelled that Castile should not reach for the gun, and Castile repeatedly replied that he was not.

At 9:06 p.m., Yanez shot Castile seven times, killing him.

His final words, according to Choi: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

Forty seconds later, Diamond Reynolds began live streaming on Facebook a video of the scene inside the car, capturing the bloody final moments of Castile’s life.

The video was shared widely, causing protests and outrage about the shooting.

Reynolds spoke with CBS News Wednesday morning, before Choi’s announcement. She said she believed Yanez should have been charged with murder.

Choi got the case in late September and began reviewing the evidence for possible charges. Choi resisted pressure immediately after the shooting to turn the case over to a special prosecutor, but added one to his team to get an outside perspective

He also enlisted the help of national use-of-force consultants. 

Choi’s office has said a key question in his review was determining whether Yanez was justified in believing deadly force was necessary. 

The announcement comes a day after the anniversary of the high-profile police killing of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. No charges were filed in that case. 

Castile’s shooting prompted numerous protests, including a weekslong demonstration outside the governor’s mansion and one rally that shut down Interstate 94 in St. Paul for hours. The interstate protest resulted in about 50 arrests and injuries to more than 20 officers, after police said they were hit with cement chunks, bottles, rocks and other objects. 

The fatal shootings of black men and boys by police officers have come under heightened scrutiny since the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and led to calls nationwide for officers to be held criminally responsible. No charges were filed in that case. 

When looking at whether to file charges, authorities must determine if the officer believed he or she, or fellow officers, were in danger in the moment the decision is made to shoot. If the fear of danger is deemed reasonable, charges are typically not filed. To prove a serious charge such as murder, prosecutors must also show that the officer was not just reckless, but had ill intentions.