Soap Box:  Shooting of Philando Castile

June 22, 2017

Philando Castile, a black man, was shot and killed on June 6, 2016 by a Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez.  Yanez had pulled Castile over in a traffic stop.  When Castile informed Yanez that he had a fireman (which was legal, and he had a permit), Yanez told him not to pull it out and within seconds had shot Castile five times.  Yanez was charged with manslaughter and two other felonies.  On June 16, 2017, a jury acquitted Yanez on all charges.  The jury got it wrong!

This case really got my attention because like Castile, I am a law abiding citizen that carries a firearm.  And I have had to inform law officers on several occasions that I am carrying a firearm, as it’s the law in North Carolina.  Each one acted differently, but none acted like Yanez.  More on this later.

While there is no proof that race was a factor in this shooting, one does wonder if race played a role in Yanez’s actions, and whether or not a white driver would have received the same treatment.  There are also some discrepancies in what Yanez has testified to, and how he and his partner, Joseph Kauser, conducted the traffic stop.  First of all, it appears Castile was not breaking any laws when he was pulled over.  And the reason for the stop has changed a few times.  Yanez initially claimed that Castile looked like a robbery suspect.  If he really believed that, he nor his partner behaved like they really believed that during the stop.  Normally a robbery suspect would be the subject of a “felony stop” i.e. guns drawn, subjects put in the ground, etc.  But Yanez and Kauser casually strolled up to the car like it was a walk in the park.  Kauser was on the right side, on the sidewalk, and seemed very relaxed.  So I kind of doubt Yanez really believed Castile was a robbery suspect, and that was just an excuse (for whatever reason) to pull him over.  The attorney for Yanez claimed Castile was also pulled over for a broken taillight.  Yet in the released video we hear Yanez saying he pulled Castile over because his brake lights weren’t working, which also doesn’t seem to be the case.  It makes one wonder if Castile was pulled over simply because he was black, and thus suspected of something solely based on his race.  Again, no proof of that, but we’re still scratching our heads as to the real reason Castile was pulled over given the statements given so far don’t offer anything.

The incident went down very fast.  Only 40 seconds elapsed between the time Yanez started talking to Castile, to Yanez shooting Castile.  As Yanez is talking to Castile, Castile calmly says he has to let Yanez know he has a firearm.  According to the testimony of the girlfriend, Castile was trying to retrieve his ID to show Yanez.  Yanez is also later heard on video saying that he asked Castile for his ID.  When Yanez hears Castile has a gun, he immediately puts his hand on his firearm located on his hip and tells Castile not to pull it out.  Castile says he’s not doing that.  Yanez seems to lose composure and pulls his weapon, while screaming don’t pull out the gun.  He then shoots at Castile seven times, hitting him five times.  Castile’s dying words was that he wasn’t reaching for his gun.  The girlfriend also testifies that he wasn’t reaching for the gun, only the ID that Yanez had requested.  Yanez never saw a gun in Castile’s hand.  His partner, Kauser, also didn’t see a gun or even Castile reaching for a gun.  In fact, Kauser was perfectly calm until Yanez started shooting, at which point Kauser runs away.  The logical conclusion is that Castile was trying to show Yanez the ID that Yanez asked for.

Did Yanez really believe Castile was pulling out a weapon in order to shoot him?  And even if he did, would a reasonable person also believe that, and react that way?  That is what the law asks.  It’s not a simple case of believing something, it also has to be what a REASONABLE person would believe.  And the simple answer is that no reasonable person would react the way Yanez did.  Furthermore, Yanez stated that one of the reasons he feared for his life is that Castile smoked “marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke”, thus would not care about the life of Yanez.  That is NOT a reasonable factor for the use of deadly force against someone.

The bottom line is that Castile was a law abiding citizen, exercising his constitutional right to be armed.  He was not resisting or fleeing.  He was calm and cooperating.  He had no reason to shoot Yanez.  He volunteered in good faith he had a firearm, something a criminal with intent on shooting a police officer wouldn’t do.  And he was not reaching for his gun.  He was trying to show the ID that Yanez requested.  It seems that the reaction from Yanez was that he immediately perceived Castile as a threat because he was armed.  As I mentioned before, I have informed police officers that I was armed.  They have been a variety of officers, such as local town cops, sheriff’s deputies, plain clothes detectives, state troopers, etc.  None of them immediately placed their hands on their weapon, or suspected me of wanting to harm them.  In fact, only one of them asked to see my permit and the location of the firearm (a rookie).  Yanez’s actions were not reasonable.  It seems to have been an overreaction from a scared cop.  That should not excuse him from the legal ramifications of shooting an innocent person.  Had a normal citizen did this, they’d probably be in prison.

As an aside, an American jury can be a collection of the dumbest people on the planet.  They often make decisions based on emotion or feelings, or other factors that aren’t based on the law, or the evidence of the case at hand.  We’ve only heard partially from the jury in this case, but I can already tell they went down the wrong path in their negotiations.  A lady juror said she voted to acquit because the state didn’t prove Yanez was “dishonest”.   His honestly is irrelevant, and that isn’t what the state was trying to prove.  They were trying to prove that what Yanez did was unreasonable.  He could be honest as the day is long, but if he reacted unreasonably in shooting Castile, which I think he did, then he’s still guilty.

My conclusion is that Yanez acted unreasonably in perceiving Castile as a threat, and shooting him, thus should be convicted of manslaughter.  I also think this is yet another example of the failure of our jury system and that we should reconsider how we form them.  Perhaps a series of tests to test the logic and reason of potential jury members is in order, or maybe it’s time to start considering professional juries.

A Final Word on Carrying a Concealed Weapon

Not all states require those that carry concealed to inform a police officer they are doing so, but my state of North Carolina does.  If you carry concealed, and you have to notify a police officer, be VERY careful.  You never know when you might get someone that is so scared that they probably shouldn’t be a cop.  Before you inform, make sure you have done all the movement you’re going to do, i.e., you’ve already retrieved your ID, insurance (if in a car), etc.  In fact, some people hand the license and gun permit to the officer at the same time.  None of my informs have been while driving.  When you inform, make the statement calmly, and succinctly.  Make sure your hands are completely visible and you’re not moving.  Don’t just blurt out, “I have a gun!”  Say something to the effect, “I need to inform you that I have a concealed carry permit and I have a firearm on me.”  After that, don’t move!  Don’t show them the gun!  Don’t do a thing until the officer tells you what to do.  If he asks the location of the gun, TELL him, don’t show him (unless he asks to see).  If he asks to see, don’t actually put your hand on the gun, just lift your shirt or whatever to show him.  If it’s in a pocket, tell him that, and then ask how he wants you to proceed.

The first time I informed, the young rookie officer wanted to see my ID, my permit, and the firearm location.  All the others have just thanked me, with one jokingly saying, “Hey, I’ve got a gun too!”

Jeff Polston

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