Several contradictions arose Tuesday from key witnesses who testified in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez, giving weight to multiple narratives about the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.
The defense relentlessly cross-examined Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, in an attempt to raise doubts about her credibility. Two officers testified that their traffic stop protocol for armed drivers differed from Yanez’s actions, and differing recollections highlighted a discrepancy in how Castile’s handgun was recovered.
The second day of testimony in Yanez’s manslaughter trial resumed with emotional testimony from Reynolds, who wiped away tears as she explained why she turned on Facebook Live as Castile lay dying next to her in his Oldsmobile.
“Because I know that people are not protected against the police,” she said, “and I wanted to make sure that if I were to die in front of my daughter, people would know the truth.”
Yanez, 29, a St. Anthony police officer, is charged in Ramsey County District Court with second-degree manslaughter for shooting Castile, 32, shortly after 9 p.m. on July 6, and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Reynolds and her daughter, then 4, who were in the car.
Defense attorney Earl Gray aggressively cross-examined Reynolds, piercing the composure she displayed under questioning by the prosecution. He tried to show that in addition to allegedly giving inconsistent statements about the shooting and investigation, Reynolds may have tried to shield Castile from liability for six grams of marijuana found in the car that day.
The defense has argued that Castile was culpably negligent in his own death because he smoked marijuana that day, was intoxicated and failed to follow Yanez’s directions.
Reynolds testified that she smoked marijuana daily with Castile, and only realized that there was some under the front passenger seat of the car after he had been shot.
“When I kicked it and heard something under my seat,” she said of the discovery. “It was already on the floor.”
“So your testimony is you kicked it under the seat?” Gray asked a few questions later.
“No,” she replied, raising her voice. “I felt it under the seat.”
Reynolds told Gray she never purchased marijuana. She then testified that on the night of the shooting she told investigators that the marijuana in Castile’s car belonged to her. She said in a second interview that they purchased the drug together and in a third that Castile purchased it on his own.
Gray called her Facebook Live broadcast into question, asking if she reported in the video that Castile had his hands in the air during the traffic stop.
Reynolds confirmed Gray’s account.
“He didn’t have his hands up at any time during the stop, did he?” Gray asked.
“That is correct,” she said.
Reynolds’ interpretation of Castile’s arm movement before he was shot was also heavily scrutinized by the defense, which noted that she first said he was reaching for a wallet in his left rear pocket and then said in a May 31 interview with prosecutors that he was reaching to unbuckle the seat belt to his right. The defense maintains that Yanez saw Castile’s hand on a gun that was later found in his right front shorts pocket.
Gray seized on that, saying it contradicted her earlier statements.
“Well, they twist my words around,” she said.
When Gray challenged her whether it was police and prosecutors who twisted her words, she replied, “I’m saying, I got my words twisted.”
Reynolds later told Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Clayton Robinson that Castile kept his wallet in his right rear pocket.
The tense exchange between Reynolds and the defense peaked near its conclusion when Gray asked Reynolds about a GoFundMe campaign started in her name. She told the court that a Castile relative shut it down due to other fraudulent campaigns, and that although she couldn’t recall how much it raised, the amount was nowhere near the $60,000 to $65,000 Gray reported in court.
Most of the money was refunded, she said.
Gray asked how much money she collected.
About $20,000, said an agitated Reynolds. “Nothing to live off of.”
“How much of the $20,000 did you use on marijuana?” Gray asked.
“Objection!” Robinson called out.
Judge William H. Leary III sustained the objection, calling the question irrelevant.
Traffic stop protocol
The prosecution has argued that no other reasonable officer would have fired at Castile, and took the opportunity Tuesday to use Yanez’s partner that night, Joseph Kauser, and one of the first responders at the scene, Roseville police officer Juan Toran, to boost their case.
Yanez fired at Castile after Castile volunteered that he had a gun, and before he could explain that he also had a permit to carry, according to the criminal complaint.
Kauser and Toran testified that if they stop a driver who volunteers that they have a gun, they instruct the driver to place his or her hands on the steering wheel or through the wheel onto the dashboard.
What next? asked Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft.
“Ask them where the gun is and what type of gun,” said Toran, who performed CPR on Castile. “Ask them if they have a right to have the gun.”
Toran told the court he has stopped about six armed drivers.
Dusterhoft asked what he would do if a driver failed to comply with his orders.
“I have never been in [that] position,” Toran answered.
Dashcam footage from Yanez’s squad played again in court Tuesday showed that although Yanez told Castile, “OK, don’t reach for it then,” and, “Don’t pull it out,” he did not instruct Castile to place his hands on the steering wheel, or, warn that he would fire.
Prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen grilled Kauser on St. Anthony police’s use-of-force policy and traffic stop protocol, asking if officers should give a warning before using deadly force.
“If feasible, you should give a warning,” Kauser said.
Asked by Paulsen whether officers should order people to stop moving, Kauser said, “It’s circumstantial.”
“How about the word, ‘Freeze!’ ” Paulsen said.
Kauser said he had never heard the order used in his law enforcement career.
“That’s a Hollywood thing,” the officer said as laughter rippled across the courtroom.
Kauser, now a Bloomington police officer, later defended Yanez’s actions.
“I think he followed protocol,” Kauser testified. “I trust him as a partner, and he did what he’s supposed to do in that situation.”
Toran also testified that he used two fingers to pull a semiautomatic handgun out of Castile’s shorts pocket as medics turned Castile, who was prone on the street, to place him on a backboard.
But St. Paul firefighter and paramedic Eric Torgerson then took the witness stand, testifying that he was working on Castile when an officer gave Castile a pat down, called out “Gun!” and “reached his hand deep” into a pocket to retrieve the gun.
brandon.stahl • 612-673-4626