The St. Anthony police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer has asked the court to throw out the charges against him, claiming that Castile’s own actions contributed to his death.
Lawyers for Jeronimo Yanez filed a motion to dismiss the manslaughter charge filed against him in November. In an eight-page memo supporting the motion, lawyer Earl Gray wrote that Castile was culpably negligent in his own death because he had created “unreasonable risk” and took chances that caused his death.
If Castile was negligent, then Gray wrote that Yanez would be exonerated. The officer remains on paid administrative leave.
According to the Ramsey County District Court charge filed in November against Yanez, the officer incorrectly thought Castile, 32, matched the description of a robbery suspect and pulled him over on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights. Castile told Yanez he had a gun, for which he had a valid permit to carry. Yanez thought Castile was reaching for his gun, which Castile denied before he was shot.
Yanez fired seven shots at Castile as Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter watched. Reynolds filmed the aftermath on a live feed via Facebook, bringing quick worldwide attention to his death, and insisting that he was reaching for his identification.
Gray said that autopsy results indicated Castile has high levels of THC in his blood, the chemical responsible for marijuana’s psychological effects, and was “stoned” while driving that day. The memo said Reynolds confirmed that the two were “smokers,” had marijuana in the car and had smoked marijuana before the stop that day.
“The status of being stoned (in an acute and chronic sense) explains why Mr. Castile, 1) did not follow the repeated directions of Officer Yanez; 2) stared straight ahead and avoided eye-contact; 3) never mentioned that he had a carry permit, but instead said he had a gun; and 4) did not show his hands,” the memo said.
But Robert Bennett, the civil lawyer representing Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said Thursday the argument is invalid because “contributory negligence is never a defense in a criminal prosecution.”
The defense motion is part of a campaign to blame the victim, he said. “It’s the designed play use by the police in defending themselves any time they kill a member of the public,” Bennett said, adding that Castile was killed by bullets, not marijuana use
“An objective review of the squad video confirms Officer Yanez’s description of why he acted in self-defense and the defense of others, but more importantly why Mr. Castile himself was culpably negligent and was the substantial cause of his own demise,” the memo said.
Castile should not have been driving under the influence, should have showed his hands and should not have reached for the gun, the memo said.
Additionally, the memo said that Castile had falsely claimed on his application for a permit to carry a gun that he was not a user of an unlawful substance. Yanez’s defense lawyers also included an exhibit from Castile’s permit-to-carry instructor James Diehl.
Diehl said that during classes he stressed that during a traffic stop, the permit owner must first tell an officer he has a permit to carry, follow orders and show your hands. Gray wrote that Castile did none of those.
Under Minnesota law, permit holders do not have to disclose whether they are carrying a firearm unless they are asked.
Ramsey County Attorney’s office spokesman Dennis Gerhardstein said the office had not yet been served with the defense motion, nor had one been filed in Ramsey County District Court by day’s end Wednesday.
But in November, County Attorney John Choi, said, “To those who may say that this incident was Philando Castile’s fault, I would submit that no reasonable officer - knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time - would have used deadly force under these circumstances.”
The filing came the same day the U.S. Justice Department announced plans for a comprehensive review of the St. Anthony Police Department. A news briefing is scheduled for Thursday at the Minneapolis office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger.
Also scheduled to join Luger are Ronald Davis, the director of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services; St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust; and St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth.
In a comprehensive review, federal officials typically scrutinize a department’s operational policies, training practices and accountability procedures and then identify key areas for improvement.
The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services have conducted assessments of many police departments, including Las Vegas, Philadelphia and San Francisco.
When the assessments are complete, the office discloses its findings publicly and review the progress made in carrying out recommendations over an 18-month period after the assessment.
Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747