Acquittal of officer who killed Philando Castile sparks emotional outcry

JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: It was a shooting that captured the nation's attention last summer, at the same time it was already grappling with tensions over police shootings. And, today, the jury reached a verdict in the trial of the officer.

Hari Sreenivasan has the latest.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Philando Castile was shot when his car was pulled over for a traffic stop last July. His girlfriend was in the car, and live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook moments later.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez said at the time that he believed Castile was reaching for a gun. Castile's family and girlfriend disputed that. Yanez had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety. This afternoon, a jury acquitted him of all charges after five days of deliberations.

Soon after, his mother and sister came out and spoke to reporters.

VALERIE CASTILE, Mother of Philando Castile: My son was murdered, and I will continue to say murdered, because where in this planet do you tell the truth, and you be honest, and you still be murdered by the police of Minnesota, while you have your seat belt on and you're in the company with a woman and a child? My son would never jeopardize anyone else's life.

ALLYSZA CASTILE, Sister of Philando Castile: The system really is wrong, and they really failed us. They really failed us, once again, because my brother was a good man. You never even heard him raise his voice. You never even heard him yell. And for that man to get on the stand and lie, he got caught in three, four, five different lies.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It was the most recent example of an officer being acquitted in a high-profile shooting. The jury had been deadlocked in recent days.

Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio has been covering the trial and joins me now.

Tim, first, you were in the courtroom. The reaction?

TIM NELSON, Minnesota Public Radio: It was swift and shocking.

The Castile family was sitting in the courtroom. The judge had asked people to be quiet while the verdicts were read, but as soon as the not-guilty verdict for the manslaughter account was returned, Valerie Castile — that's Philando's mother — got up and started shouting profanity in the courtroom.

She had been — the people in the court had been told to wait until all the verdicts were read before they left, and she pushed her way out, was joined by many of her friends and family, visibly upset, very, very angry about the verdict here today.

On the other side, the friends and family, some of the fellow officers of Jeronimo Yanez were weeping as well, clearly relieved that this ordeal is over. It's been going on almost a year now. He was charged in November. So, a lot of angst initially in the courtroom.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tim, the county attorney when he was bringing these charges said no reasonable officer would have used deadly force in this situation. Why wasn't he able to convince a jury?

TIM NELSON: Well, I think there were three real factors here.

One of them was, we saw for the first time the squad car video, the perspective of the officer, or at least from his dash-cam. And what we saw was, this happened very quickly. And you could feel the emotion, you could feel the tension in this situation as it happened.

And it's confounding. You can't see what was actually going on in the car. And I think that that left some doubt there. The other thing is, the defense continued to return to the THC found in Mr. Castile's blood after he died.

They continued to suggest that he had been smoking marijuana, and that may have clouded his judgment when he told the officer that pulled him over that he had a gun, that he may not have done it in a way that lessened the risk that they both faced in this case.

And I think the third thing in this case was Officer Yanez actually taking the stand last Friday. He was near tears as he talked about the fear he felt, the tension he felt, the thoughts of his family running through his mind as he encountered Philando Castile for those first few seconds of this incident.

So, it, I think, may have left some doubt in the jury's mind. And, you know, there are some Supreme Court cases, Graham vs. Connor, that give the benefit of the doubt in a lot of these cases to a police officer. They urge the jury to think about it from the officer's perspective in the moment, not in perfect 20/20 hindsight.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Tim, we learned in this process that Mr. Castile had a permit for that weapon.

But what's the level of concern or anger in your community? I remember, right after this incident, there were protests on your streets for days and weeks.

TIM NELSON: Not just on our streets. They closed an interstate between the two cities in what authorities later called a riot. There were police officers injured in that incident.

The protesters occupied the front of the governor's mansion for weeks here. And, you know, you remember, this happened just after the shooting in Louisiana and had been — it sort of added to the tension there.

We haven't seen those kinds of protests lately, but as soon as I walked out of the courtroom today, as soon as I walked out of the courthouse, there were people with hand-lettered signs shouting, making their voices, their unhappiness about this verdict.

So it's clear there are some people who are very angry about this, and we may see some more of that coming up soon.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Tim Nelson of Minnesota Public Radio, thanks so much.

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