Police Abuse

Philando Castile Video Shows a Cop Who Panicked and Killed an Innocent Man

Officer Jeronimo Yanez's claim that he saw Castile drawing a gun is utterly implausible.


St. Anthony Police Department

Much has been made of the fact that the dashcam video of the July 6, 2016, traffic stop in which Philando Castile was killed, which was finally released to the public yesterday, does not show what was going on inside his car—in particular, where he was reaching and for what. Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer who shot Castile, initially said he thought Castile was reaching for a gun. Later he claimed to have seen Castile pulling out the pistol, which was found in a pocket of his shorts. Notwithstanding the gap in the video record, which the jurors who acquitted Yanez of second-degree manslaughter last week evidently thought was enough to create reasonable doubt, his story is utterly implausible.

To believe Yanez, you would have to believe that Castile, a law-abiding, peaceful cafeteria manager at a local elementary school who had a concealed-carry permit, was for some unknown reason bent on murdering the police officer who had pulled him over because of a faulty brake light. You would also have to believe that Castile, having decided to shoot Yanez, thought it was a good idea to calmly announce, "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me."

A more innocent explanation is that Castile meant to hand the gun over to Yanez for the duration of the traffic stop, which led to a fatal misunderstanding. But that explanation is inconsistent with the repeated assurances from Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, that he was not, in fact, reaching for his gun. "I wasn't reaching for it" was one of the last things Castile said as he sat, mortally wounded, in his car. So the only possibility, if you believe Yanez, is that Castile was bent on violence.

Far more likely is that Yanez told the truth in his initial account of the shooting: He believed Castile was reaching for a gun, but he never saw the weapon. Beginning immediately after the shooting (as you can hear in the dashcam video), Reynolds has consistently said Castile was actually reaching for his wallet to retrieve his driver's license, which Yanez had requested along with his insurance card. If you believe Reynolds (and Castile), Yanez made a mistake. Whether that mistake was excusable depends on whether Yanez reasonably believed that shooting Castile was the only way to avoid death or serious injury.

Yanez may indeed have believed that, but his belief was not reasonable. The officer's only basis for fearing Castile was the latter's purported resemblance to a robbery suspect (which was the real reason for the traffic stop). But that resemblance consisted entirely of commonly conjoined features: dark skin, a wide nose, dreadlocks, and glasses. Jeffrey Noble, an expert on police procedure, testified during Yanez's trial that the officer had "absolutely no reason" to view Castile as a criminal suspect. That initial misconception evidently colored everything that followed, even though Castile was polite, cooperative, and forthcoming in letting Yanez know about the gun.

Even if Yanez had good reason to fear Castile, Noble said, he could have addressed the threat he perceived by instructing the driver to put his hands on the dashboard, which he never did. Yanez also could haver stepped back from the car window to the area between the front and back seats, which would have given him more space and time to react. Yanez did not take those precautions because he was not thinking clearly. Watching the dashcam video, which shows a calm exchange escalating into gunfire in just a few seconds, you see a man in full-blown panic.

Yanez's lawyers cited that short time span as a reason to cut him some slack: Reacting in the heat of the moment to what he perceived as a deadly threat, Yanez did what he thought was necessary to protect himself. (The day after the shooting, Yanez also claimed he had been thinking about his partner, who can be seen pulling back from the car in fear and surprise as Yanez fires seven rounds; Reynolds, who was nearly hit by one of those bullets; and her 4-year-old daughter, who was sitting in the backseat and probably did not perceive Yanez as protecting her.) If in retrospect Castile did not actually pose a threat (although Yanez insisted that he did), why punish the officer for making the wrong split-second decision in what he thought was a life-or-death situation?

That is the sort of reasoning that often gets cops off the hook even in the rare cases where their use of force leads to criminal charges. It is mistaken in this case because Yanez, like the cops who killed Tamir Rice and Zachary Hammond, created the perceived emergency that supposedly justified the use of deadly force. By making erroneous assumptions and failing to take obvious precautions, he put himself in a position where he thought he had no choice but to kill an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but exercising his Second Amendment rights.

NEXT: L.A. Hotel Union Misleads About Airbnb, Hoping to Get Rid of Competition

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Look, it’s a completely common thing for someone bent on murdering a cop to calmly and politely inform him that you’re carrying a weapon on you before pulling it out and shooting. It probably happened to Yanez a million times before his encounter with Castille, right?

  2. Jeronimo Yanez is a murder and no acquittal will ever relieve him of that.

    Luckily, we have a video showing that the officer lied. Unfortunately, juries tend to let officers go free. Perceived obligation to protect the police-state or something.

    I just hope that this does not scare people to push for MORE open carry, concealed carry and constitutional carry. Freedom is not free and we must fight for our rights and for gun rights, win them back.

    1. You mean scare from?

    2. I know what you mean… If He just obeyed the Authorities clear instructions, he would still be alive today… Really sad…

      “For those rulers are an object of fear, not to the good deed, but to the bad. Do you want to be free of fear of the authority? Keep doing good, and you will have praise from it; 4 for it is God’s minister to you for your good. But if you are doing what is bad, be in fear, for it is not without purpose that it bears the sword. It is God’s minister, an avenger to express wrath against the one practicing what is bad. 5 There is therefore compelling reason for you to be in subjection, not only on account of that wrath but also on account of your conscience. 6 That is why you are also paying taxes; for they are God’s public servants constantly serving this very purpose. 7 Render to all their dues: to the one who calls for the tax, the tax; to the one who calls for the tribute, the tribute; to the one who calls for fear, such fear; to the one who calls for honor, such honor.”
      (Romans 13:1-7)

      -According to Chronology, the Bible is 3,500 years old, & if you doubt this, go to a *Museum not the Internet. The Bible has been translated into about 2,600 languages, and billions of copies printed & distribute. More than 90 percent of the people in the world can read the Bible in their own language. And each week, more than a million people get a Bible! Yes, there is no other book like the Bible. Have a Bible question?

  3. We also do not know to what extent the prosecution tanked the case. I fully expect to see Yanez back in uniform, wet pants and all.

    1. this is one of those rare cases where they fired the officer for killing an innocent person without regard to whether he was guilty of murder. what an odd concept, terminating an officer for fatal incompetence.

      but yeah, probably tanked with a gallery full of armed police glaring at the jury.

      1. He’s a cop in the next town over now, isn’t he.

      2. terminating an officer for fatal incompetence.

        This is what should happen. And I can’t see why it should even be controversial. If you aren’t capable of the stresses and, yes, necessary risk of the job, you don’t get to do it.

      3. they fired the officer for killing an innocent person without regard to whether he was guilty of murder.

        And now that he’s been acquitted the police union will most likely fight tooth and nail to get him his job back. And they’ll probably succeed, too. God, I loathe the FoP.

      4. As a concealed weapons permit holder in another state, I would have done everything as a member of the jury to convict Yanez.

        1. “As a concealed weapons permit holder…” you had ZERO chance to get by voir dire, i.e., jury stacking. How do you explain killer cops getting off?

  4. Look, you weren’t there, I wasn’t there, Jacob Sullum wasn’t there – the only people that heard and saw and considered all the evidence was the jury. They made their decision after carefully weighing all the evidence in a clear and dispassionate manner and if you disagree with their decision it probably speaks more to your lack of objectivity about the defendant than any hypothetical bias or ignorance on the part of the jury. The jury has spoken, accept that this is the final word on the subject and move on. OJ is innocent, get over it.

    1. Right. Every jury is 100% correct, and never influenced by prosecution’s dicretion.

      Go back to eating paste, JK.

    2. OJ is in prison.

      1. He’s differently guilty.

  5. Watching the dashcam video, which shows a calm exchange escalating into gunfire in just a few seconds, you see a man in full-blown panic.

    For this reason among others listed (failure to go through normal procedure when engaging someone known to be carrying, i.e. asking him to step out of the car and securing the weapon for the duration of the traffic stop) this man should not be in law enforcement. End of story.

    1. NOR at this point should he be a FREE MAN.

    2. How about the cop yells: “Stop! Put your hands on the wheel!”, then takes a breath as the citizen sits there with his hands on the wheel. He might have remembered protocol and asked the man to slowly get out of the car with his hands up. As the minutes passed the cop might have calmed down and realized he had overreacted. Once the gun was in his hands he might even have stopped shaking, unless he was on an “upper” like too much coffee?

      In any case an innocent man would be alive. But what about the next time? With his nervous condition (trigger happy?) it was bound to happen sooner or later, if it hadn’t already. (Records are not kept by some precincts.)

  6. “Yanez may indeed have believed that, but his belief was not reasonable.”

    Exactly. Sullum could not state the essence of this case more clearly.

    Personally I think cops, by dint of their training (don’t laugh) and position of authority, should be held to a higher standard for use of lethal force as compared to other citizens.

    But, sadly, they are held to a much, much lower standard.

    Blame the cop, blame the people who put him on the street – armed and incompetent – but also blame the jury, who let a guilty man go free.

    1. This one is almost as bad as the charleston cop shooting.

      I can see no rational defense of this shooting at all.

      All the cop had to do was make him get out and call back-up prior to doing so. In not knowing the case anymore than the video and many articles, seems that the cop escalated things.

    2. sadly, they are held to a much, much lower standard.

      no, there’s no double standard because… something something totality of the circs… mumble mumble…

      hth smooches

  7. Shorter version:

    “Jeronimo Yanez is a panicky little pussy who should have never been allowed to become a cop in the first place and should be rotting in prison for a very long time.”

    1. You’re being much to kind to Yanez, I think. There are plenty of panicky people out there who somehow manage to live a long and productive life without even _trying_ to murder anybody.

      1. Yes, but those “panicky people” are not granted a monopoly on violence and moral superiority.

        The public created the monster and suffer death at its hands. Worse, the public refuses to acknowledge their mistake. Ayn Rand called this: “The sanction of the victim.”

        Multiply this by a thousand when the Americans killed in wars of aggression are counted. Consider: No gun must be put the head of the young anymore (draft). They line up to sign their murder/suicide pact. Why wouldn’t they? The soldier (obedience required under threat of death) is honored as a hero just for putting on a uniform. The dead are glorified with a special national holiday. This despite the profound shame confessed by returning war veterans. This despite the high suicide/drug/PTSD rate. The public doesn’t want to hear about the shame. They want them to shut up and go away. Heroes are supposed to make us feel good, not make us face reality.

  8. Hey, a coward went home alive that night and that’s all that matters.

  9. “The officer’s only basis for fearing Castile was the latter’s purported resemblance to a robbery suspect”

    Wrong. The first thing Yanez noticed was the smell of marijuana. Then Castile said he had a gun. He reached for his pocket . Yanez did NOT know at the time that Castile had a permit. He reacted to the threat of #1: drugs, and #2: a gun in the car that ..

    This death was tragic and preventable. Castile did NOT deserve this. But he made mistakes 1) driving while high, which is illegal ; 2) possessing his legal firearm while high, which is illegal , ; 3) failing to keep his hands on the wheel when ordered to by Yanez after hearing there was a firearm, 4) driving with his CHILD in his car while he was high, which is stupid and criminally negligent.

    This innocent upstanding human being was not thinking clearly. No doubt he tried to do the right thing, but his judgment was faulty due to his being high. Yanez was faced with a druggie that had a gun and was reaching behind him. He had a split second to react and he feared the worst, as he was trained to do when faced with a combination of drugs and guns.

    It was profoundly tragic. The jury could only consider what they were given as evidence, it was not their job to second-guess what was in anyone’s mind in the 6 seconds of the interview. The prosecution blew it.

    1. Ladyhawk,
      Where did you get the information that “Tanez noticed the smell of marijuana?” It is not mentioned in the published reports I have seen, nor does it seem to have been mentioned that traces of same were found in the car.”

      Lets not forget either, that the state is not in the habit of giving CCW permits to drug users. Drug use is a disqualifier for firearms purchase.

      Yes, I would have handled it differently. Hands would have been on the wheel from the outset. After the officer was advised of the possession of a firearm and permit, the next words uttered would have been “How would you like to proceed?”

      It bears repeating, the officer had asked for his his license and insurance.

      You are right that an “upstanding human being was not thinking clearly” It resulted in an innocent firearm owners death.

    2. I just checked other sources which support your marijuana use issue. HOWEVER. . .

      From the Washington post:

      “But officers’ claims of safety concerns about marijuana are difficult to reconcile with what researchers know about the effects of marijuana use. Numerous studies have demonstrated that marijuana tends to decrease aggression in people under its effects. Both drug policy experts and the general public rate marijuana use as less harmful to individuals and society than the use of most other drugs, particularly alcohol.

      Yanez’s statement is somewhat puzzling, conflating secondhand smoke exposure with a clear and present danger to an officer’s life.” [1]

      Have to agree. . . Under the facts of the case, had a citizen shot someone under simular circumstances, there is no doubt they would be in the slammer or on the way to death row.

      The Federal government should go after him on civil rights violations.

      1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wo…..580d18f491

  10. So if I understand this correctly, it is OK for a Jury to nullify when it is a cop on trial, but not ok when it is a citizen on trial.

    1. Who said anything like that? Wasn’t me.

  11. “To believe Yanez, you would have to believe that Castile, a law-abiding, peaceful cafeteria manager at a local elementary school who had a concealed-carry permit, was for some unknown reason bent on murdering the police officer who had pulled him over because of a faulty brake light. ”

    Wrong. Yanez did not know that Castile was “a law-abiding, peaceful cafeteria manager at a local elementary school who had a concealed-carry permit. ” Neither did any of us when it all went down. Do you really expect that a cop who just smelled marijuana in the car would believe the “repeated assurances” that Castile was not reaching for his gun ? Cops get dead because of that sort of naivete.

    1. Cite one case.

    2. Ladyhawk: Are you claiming that the odor of pot justifies assuming the driver is high and dangerous? You conflate the the gun notification plus pot smoke as two reasons to not believe “repeated assurances”. What are we to make of your “Cops get dead because of that sort of naivety”? That we should expect “kill ’em all and let God sort out the innocent”? That is military mentality when dealing with citizens who might be insurgents. Are “We the People” now regarded as less worthy of life than authorities? Have the servants become the masters? Are you uncomfortable being considered a “public servant” as many authorities have claimed they are? Do you expect to be called “sir”? Do you ever address a citizen as “sir”? Do you ask, or demand when interacting with a citizen? Do you demand complete compliance, no matter what? Do you punish or threaten when you don’t get it?

      If I am stopped while armed I would never volunteer that info. Does that alarm or make you angry? Do you think it’s your right to know? Even if it gets us killed? Would Castile be alive if he had kept his mouth shut? I think so. So do you, if you’re honest with yourself. Why? Because it’s not about citizen safety. It’s about police safety first, foremost.

  12. The only thing I’d like to add to this discussion is to clear up some a particular bit of FUD which keeps cropping up.

    Most states do not have a “requirement to notify” law on the books, CC or OC. This issue is confused by law enfarcement apologist gun rags (and websites, e.g. concealednation.com) who conflate the absence of a prohibition on police asking this question with a “duty to notify, if asked”. Unless your state has a specific statutory requirement to inform police, your right to remain silent remains in force (the few states which do have this requirement circumvent the 5th amendment on the basis that permit holders are not actually self-incriminating by revealing their armed status).

    Also, if you live in one of the few states with an actual, statutory requirement to notify, it behooves you to realize that this is not the norm, and it is not to be expected to exercise a constitutionally guaranteed right. Moreover, these laws do nothing to enhance officer safety, and are regularly responsible for the shooting deaths by cops of innocent gun owners. This has happened before, and it will happen again. As such, it is your duty as a citizen (far more than it could ever be to volunteer information to law enfarcement) to write your legislators and seek to have any requirement to notify laws repealed outright. They are a menace, they are not the norm, they are archaic and backwards and they are not to be tolerated.

  13. For example, I live in Virginia, which has no duty to notify, and in fact my preference (and legal right) is to refuse to answer any questions of any sort, beyond the statutory requirement to self-identify. But this does not stop gun rags from claiming Virginia has a “duty to notify, if asked”. It is typically a crime to lie to police, but in most states it remains legal to remain silent.

    1. I learned the hard way to keep my mouth shut when around authorities. My attempt to cooperate cost me $33,000 + a felony conviction in 1980. Had I refused to cooperate I would have been free to board my plane. If not, the very worst would have been a delayed trip and a fight to get my $21,000 back, but no charges. I won’t make that mistake again.

      “…in most states it remains legal to remain silent.” There are lots of unConstitutional laws. If one makes silence illegal, it would fall into that category. But my stop/search did also. Many Appeals Court decisions had ruled my stop unConstitutional. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals didn’t. The SCOTUS refused to hear my appeal. Some people got their rights, I didn’t. But I hurt myself because I believed myself innocent. So I answered questions. I learned that no one knowns what is “innocent” behavior. Not even law enforcement. Prosecutors & judges decide. And they more often than not use statements of citizens as the sole evidence of a crime. In my case, my statement was the crime. Had I not answered questions, no crime could be fabricated and no charges would have been filed.

  14. If you wonder why juries keep exonerating (at the minimum) negligent homicide by cops, think: jury stacking. The prosecutor and the judge conspire to get a “law & order” jury. The worst that can happen to the defendant is a hung jury. This is nothing new. Without an eye/ear witness the cop will never be charged. How many more of these deaths have happened where no citizen witness saw the unarmed victim die? A great many, but we will not know the exact number because when the ‘net started putting heat on the killers, the police departments stopped giving out the info and some claimed they “no longer kept records of officer involved deaths of unarmed civilians”. How convenient. Lives are being taken (at record levels?) and the danger to the public by those paid to save lives goes unreported?

    Reverse the situation. A cop gets killed by an armed citizen who claims: I thought he was going to draw and kill me. No witnesses. The citizen calls in the shooting and waits at the scene. If he survives to be arrested/charged and he refuses a plea bargain (highly unlikely considering “bargain” is tantamount to extortion), then he will be convicted of a serious offense. No “reasonable doubt” for him. No presumption of innocence. No fair trial. How can anyone get a fair trial when the authorities try the case of “one of their own dying”? Wait! There is a way. The shooter is a famous and popular celeb or very rich & connected.

    For the rest of us, justice is a word that does not apply.

  15. If police were held to the same standards as are armed civilians, this sort of thing would be far less likely to happen.

    1. If authorities were held to the same laws as civilians the govt. would be voluntary and we would all live in freedom.

      But authorities the world over are given a monopoly of power/morality. That is tyranny. And it is worshipped as if it’s the only way to achieve security, prosperity. The opposite is true. But the myth seems impervious to experience. People keep trusting their life to rulers, getting screwed, complaining, and doing it with new rulers, hoping for a different result.

      That is mass delusion. Einstein called it insane. And it’s destroying the world.

  16. (1 of 2)

    The key in these officer shootings is fear. Yanez, much like Betty Shelby, the Tulsa LEO acquitted of shooting and killing Terence Crutcher, claimed “I thought I was going to die”. Once that statement is uttered the legal system tilts almost irreversibly in their favor.

    Officer Shelby said of Crutcher, “I thought he was gonna kill me. I’ve never been so scared.” She also testified that when a suspect reaches for something unobscured they’re trained not to let the suspect bring the hand back up. “If you hesitate and delay, then you die,” she said. Yanez: “I know he had an object and it was dark. And he was pulling it out with his right hand.” Apparently he believed the same.

    Another similarity is how testimonies of both officers rely on the scapegoating of the suspects to justify their lethal use of force. At the scene Officer Shelby said, “I can’t believe he made me do it” and at the trial when asked if Crutcher’s death was ‘his fault’ she said “Yes, if he would have only communicated with me and complied with what I asked, none of this would have happened.”

    Officer Yanez: “I thought if he has the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the 5-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me?”

    1. (cont’d) (2 of 2)

      It’s nearly impossible to criminally convict a police officer when the circumstances, even when appearing unambiguous to observers, can be characterized as instilling ‘fear’ in the officer. A civil case against Yanez may likely be different. From a preponderance of the evidence a jury may conclude that Officer Yanez’s fear led directly to the series of acts related to Castile’s unnecessary death. Castile is now gone forever but if I was his family I wouldn’t settle for anything less than high 7 figures.

  17. Sad that even the Authorities are living in fear…
    “People will become faint out of fear…” (Luke 21:26)

    -According to Chronology, the Bible is 3,500 years old, & if you doubt this, go to a *Museum not the Internet. The Bible has been translated into about 2,600 languages, and billions of copies printed & distribute. More than 90 percent of the people in the world can read the Bible in their own language. And each week, more than a million people get a Bible! Yes, there is no other book like the Bible. Have a Bible question?


Please to post comments

Comments are closed.