The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a state education licensing board inappropriately denied a teaching license "for immoral character or conduct" to the ex-police officer who killed Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.
In its 21-page decision, the appeals court ruled that the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board's basis for denying Jeronimo Yanez a teaching license "must relate to professional morals in the occupation of teaching and indicate that an individual is unfit to teach." Chief Judge Susan L. Segal wrote in the decision that the board must reconsider Yanez's application from February 2020, when he applied for a three-year short-call substitute teaching license. At the time, he had a part-time position teaching Spanish at a private parochial school.
However, the appeals court stopped short of instructing the board to grant Yanez his license, directing it only to more narrowly define "immoral character or conduct" within the moral standards of teaching.
"The board's decision must focus exclusively on Yanez's conduct and his fitness to be a teacher, not fitness to be a police officer," Segal wrote.
"It was obvious the licensing board's decision was wrong," said Robert Fowler, Yanez's attorney. "That's why my client appealed and he is pleased with the court's decision. However, my client's priority now is moving on to the next chapter in his life in peace and privacy."
The licensing board declined to comment.
One of the questions on the license application asked Yanez if he had ever been acquitted or found not guilty of a criminal offense. Yanez answered "yes" and said he "was involved in a Deadly Use of Force Situation" while on patrol as a St. Anthony peace officer in July 2016.
Yanez was charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangered safety. A jury acquitted him of charges in July 2017.
The board referred Yanez's application to its disciplinary committee for investigation. Yanez informed the committee that he was "wrongly accused of a crime while on duty as a St. Anthony Police Officer." Yanez further stated that he "decided to retire from police work" after the criminal trial, that "[s]econd chances are important in education and life," and that "[w]orking as a substitute teacher certainly would be for [him]."
The committee sent Yanez a letter several months later informing him that his application was denied "because it believes that [Yanez's] involvement in the shooting and death of Philando Castile is misconduct which is a ground for the board to refuse to issue a teaching license."
Castile, 32, was a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul who was fatally shot after Yanez pulled him over in Falcon Heights. The aftermath was broadcast live on Facebook by Castile's girlfriend, who was in the car with him and her 4-year-old child.
Yanez appealed the board's decision, and at a hearing in July 2021, the superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, Joseph Gothard, testified that Yanez should be denied a license because he believed his "actions were hurtful and offensive to the community on three fronts."
"One, on the prejudgment that was made by [Yanez] in pulling Mr. Castile over and the subsequent descriptions; two, on the hurt that was caused to the community that continues to be reverberated today; and, finally, the fact that no safety plan or procedures would adequately fulfill the duty of licensed educators in the state of Minnesota to keep [the] school community, students, staff and the community at large safe," according to Gothard's testimony.
Gothard added: "Castile was a beloved employee of the Saint Paul Public Schools," and Yanez "took a life that he should not have taken," and endangered the lives of others.
"No school-aged child should have a licensed educator who took the life of a Black man in the way [Yanez] did when he killed Mr. Castile," he testified.
Yanez fired his weapon seven times. Five shots hit Castile and caused his death. Ttwo other shots lodged in the car, including one that passed through the back seat that was only 16 or 17 inches from where the child was sitting.
Regarding the widely viewed video, the judge said that while Castile was shown covered in blood, struggling to breathe, Yanez still aimed his firearm at Castile.
The principal of the predominately white parochial school where Yanez was employed part time as a Spanish teacher testified in support of his application. The principal, who was not named in the appeal, said there were no incidents between Yanez and students or staff members relating to the shooting, and Yanez received an excellent performance rating.
Law enforcement expert Gary Cayo, a retired police sergeant and former president of the Minnesota Fraternal Order of Police, also testified in support of Yanez receiving his substitute teaching license, noting that Yanez had sufficient basis to suspect Castile may have been involved in the recent armed robbery.
But the judge concluded that Yanez "failed to establish that his use of deadly force against Mr. Castile was objectively reasonable and necessary" and the "pretextual stop, racial profiling, and killing of Mr. Castile constitute immoral conduct [that was] morally wrong, and deeply hurtful and offensive to the community," and that Yanez had "failed to establish that his application should be granted."
The judge recommended that the board affirm the committee's denial of Yanez's application. The board sided with the committee's decision and judge's recommendation that his application be denied for immoral conduct.
With the appellate court's ruling Monday, the board must now identify which factors it is relying on in determining whether Yanez's conduct violated moral standards for the teaching profession.
The court requires the board to assess whether and how that conduct relates to Yanez's fitness to teach in public schools while avoiding "generalized critiques of policing practices — such as characterizing the practice of using a pretextual reason for a stop as immoral."