Police Abuse

Two Phony Excuses for Shooting Philando Castile

Jeronimo Yanez's defenders falsely portray Castile as a disobedient stoner.

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St. Anthony Police Department

Defenders of Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who killed Philando Castile last summer and was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter last week, make two interrelated claims to justify the shooting: Castile was stoned, and Castile was disobedient. Here is why those claims are either inaccurate or irrelevant.

Castile was stoned. Yanez said he smelled burnt marijuana as he approached Castile's car after pulling it over on the night of July 6, 2016, ostensibly because one of the brake lights was not working. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said she regularly smoked pot with him, and when police searched the car they found six grams of marijuana inside an uncovered Mason jar wrapped in a plastic bag.

Toxicology tests found THC in Castile's blood, but post-mortem levels are an unreliable indicator of impairment because THC is stored in body fat and re-enters the bloodstream after death. Even when blood is drawn from a living source, THC levels cannot be directly tied to impairment, partly because individual responses vary widely and regular users develop tolerance. It is therefore not clear whether Castile was under the influence of marijuana at the time of the shooting or, if so, how intoxicated he might have been.

Castile was disobedient. The question of Castile's cannabis consumption is relevant only if you accept the defense argument that marijuana impaired his ability to follow Yanez's instructions, as evidenced by his failure to do as he was told. But the dashcam video of the shooting does not support the claim that Castile was uncooperative. To the contrary, he interacted with Yanez calmly and politely, handed over his insurance card as instructed, and let the officer know he was carrying a concealed firearm (for which he had a permit). According to Reynolds, whose account on this point has always been consistent, Castile was reaching for his wallet so he could retrieve his driver's license, which Yanez had also requested, when the officer became agitated.

Notably, Yanez never told Castile to stop moving, to keep his hands in plain view, or to put them on the dashboard. Instead he told Castile, "Don't pull it out," referring to the handgun. "I'm not pulling it out," Castile assured Yanez. "He's not pulling it out," Reynolds reiterated. This is the point at which Yanez freaked out, screaming, "Don't pull it out!" He immediately drew his pistol and fired seven rounds at Castile, who managed to say "I wasn't reaching for it" before he died.

You can argue that Castile should have realized his movements were making Yanez nervous or that he should have proactively put his hands on the dashboard, even though Yanez had not told him to do so. But it is not accurate to say that Castile disobeyed Yanez's commands. All the evidence suggests that Castile thought he was doing what Yanez wanted by retrieving his driver's license. It was Yanez who made mistaken assumptions about Castile (viewing him as a robbery suspect based on no real evidence, viewing him as a deadly threat after Castile disclosed that he had a gun), failed to communicate his wishes, failed to take routine precautions (such as instructing Castile to put his hands on the dashboard or stepping back from the car window), and flew into a panic within seconds.

It is true that Castile might still be alive had he acted differently. If he had never mentioned the gun, for example, he in all likelihood would have survived the encounter. But even though Minnesotans with concealed-carry permits are not legally required to tell police about their guns when they are pulled over, cops prefer that they do so to avoid scary surprises, and experts generally recommend disclosure. Castile was doing what he thought he was supposed to do when he said, "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me." It turned out to be a fatal mistake only because of Yanez's unprofessional, irrational reaction.

Castile could have sought to put Yanez at ease by remaining motionless with his hands in plain sight after telling him about the gun, disregarding the request for his driver's license. Had he done that, he probably would still be alive. But to say that in retrospect Castile could have been more sensitive to Yanez's nervousness is not the same as saying the shooting was justified. The onus was on Yanez, the armed agent of the state who initiated the encounter, to control the situation by remaining calm and making it clear what he wanted Castile to do. Any miscalculation Castile may have made pales beside the recklessness of the cop who killed him.

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31 responses to “Two Phony Excuses for Shooting Philando Castile

  1. But even though Minnesotans with concealed-carry permits are not legally required to tell police about their guns when they are pulled over, cops prefer that they do so to avoid scary surprises, and experts generally recommend disclosure.

    Experts being law enforcement?

  2. That’s the problem with negative commands- they don’t tell you what to do. He wasn’t reaching for his gun so when the cop yelled “don’t reach for [the gun]” it made perfect sense to him to keep reaching since he wasn’t reaching for the gun. Maybe training in how to give a clear positive command is in order instead of training with psychopaths who teaches cops how to get away with murder.

    1. Sorry- “Don’t pull [the gun] out.” I was thinking about Chicago the musical.

  3. Okay, so Castile DID actually have THC in his system at the time so saying that he smelled pot isn’t a ‘phony excuse’. Castile was, according to his girlfriend, a regular pot smoker. Nothing you write undoes the simple fact that this is not a ‘phony excuse’–it’s a simple fact.

    Was Castile disobedient? No. Because Yanez never gave him the commands that would have averted this. After hearing that Castile had a gun, Yanez should have asked him to place his hands in view. He did not, so Castile continued complying with the initial command–license and registration as per standard–which was interpreted by the now terrified cop as a threat.

    The failure is all on the head of the cop. The cop walking is on the head of the jury.

    A similar thing is happening in Cincinnati. The shooting was so obviously wrong and unjustified that the copsucking Republican prosecutor called it murder…….but the jury deadlocked the first time and isn’t looking good this time.

    And that’s on the jury.

    It’s strange that a site that’s for jury nullification is annoyed when the jury doesn’t go the way they want.

    Here’s the problem. Cops are held to a low standard. It should be codified into law that, if you choose to take the badge, you will be held to a much stricter standard than civilians–with great power, as it is said, comes great responsibility. We give police the power to subdue, to incarcerate, to engage in firefights, to kill–if justified. They should NEVER get a pass.

    1. And those “stricter standards” would still go before a jury if we’re talking about a criminal trial, and those same juries won’t want to put their precious cops behind bars, because there are far too many simpletons who view cops with undeserved reverence. People have convinced themselves that government is God and cops are his representatives here on earth.

    2. Nothing you write undoes the simple fact that this is not a ‘phony excuse’–it’s a simple fact.

      It’s still a phony excuse because there is no reason to believe that a person is more of a danger because they are stoned or in possession of some weed. It may be a true fact, but it’s irrelevant.

      It’s strange that a site that’s for jury nullification is annoyed when the jury doesn’t go the way they want.

      Supporting nullification doesn’t mean you have to believe that juries are infallible. Nullification is when the jury thinks the defendant did it, but that conviction would be inappropriate or the law is unreasonable. I don’t think this is really a case of nullification. Sometimes juries just get it wrong.

      I think you nail it in your last paragraph.

      1. >It’s still a phony excuse because there is no reason to believe that a person is more of a danger because they are stoned or in possession of some weed.

        Not true. Here’s proof: https://youtu.be/J-E2WgrtnGQ

    3. Even those of us who consider jury nullification as the highest responsibility of a jury, know that it can be misapplied and abused. There is no one on that front who thinks that juries are infallible.

      When it comes to jury nullification, the arguments in favor are often framed around laws on the books, and not defendants. It doesn’t matter who the defendant is if they are being charged under a drug crime, for example. But when the jury nullifies because of sympathy for the defendant, that is where things are dicing and nullification supporters see where things can and will go wrong.

      That is why juries ruling in favor of police who kill unarmed or otherwise innocent people is so troubling. The jury isn’t nullifying some unjust law. What they are saying is that despite the fact that the action was wrong and clearly a violation of the law and civil rights, the fact that the defendant is a cop, it is ok. The Cop is justified in their dangerous and criminal behavior because of their station. That is not just nullification.

    4. The excuse wasn’t that he smelled cannabis. Yanez’s explanation was that a cannabis smell meant Castille smoked cannabis in front of the child making Castille a threat to Yanez. It’s bullshit layered on bullshit. It should insult your intelligence and make you question the credibility of everything else Yanez says.

    5. Okay, so Castile DID actually have THC in his system at the time so saying that he smelled pot isn’t a ‘phony excuse’.

      So, what are you saying, that anytime a cop smells pot that’s a valid excuse to shoot whoever they’re interacting with? Simply smelling pot doesn’t justify shooting someone, so yes, it is a phony excuse for committing murder.

      Or are you saying that smelling pot excuses the officer becoming agitated and feeling threatened? We all know how those Negros can be when they’ve been smoking the Devil’s Weed. /sarc

    6. Okay, so Castile DID actually have THC in his system at the time so saying that he smelled pot isn’t a ‘phony excuse’.

      Well shit, if Yanez can smell it in the victim’s blood rolling down the highway WTF do we need fancy detectors, investigations, and juries for? Too bad for Castile that Yanez didn’t wake up with the supernatural ability that gives him headaches around robbery suspects or allows him to talk to crime-solving ghosts.

    7. See, you’re just so unfocussed

      If you accept that juries are good enough to know when to let someone off via nullification, you HAVE to accept their other decisions. You HAVE to trust the institution–even if you know they’re gonna be wrong sometimes. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than having someone dispense ‘justice’ from on high.

      And all my comments about pot were only to point out that Philando Castile DID have THC in his system, he WAS a smoker of pot, so it’s not ‘phony’ for the cop to have claimed some vague cop ‘pot’ thing among his reasons for stopping Castile.

      No support or anything for the reason, just that it wasn’t ‘phony’.

      1. You HAVE to trust the institution–even if you know they’re gonna be wrong sometimes.

        No I don’t. You have to accept that the verdict is what it is. That doesn’t mean you can’t get pissed when they accept some phony bullshit like this.

        I don’t think that “phony” implies that the whole thing was completely fabricated.

        And all my comments about pot were only to point out that Philando Castile DID have THC in his system, he WAS a smoker of pot

        The cop didn’t know that until after he killed the guy. So, yes, it is a phony, made up after the fact excuse.

    8. After watching the video several times, I wonder why the cop didn’t just draw his gun, step to his right (behind the driver) and order him to “freeze”. It’s pretty damned hard for the driver of a car to shoot over his shoulder through the side window of a car. In fact, the few times I’ve been stopped for traffic infractions, the cops have always approached slowly from the side and remained behind and to the left, not stepping forward parallel to the driver’s seat. If the cop REALLY thought Castile was a robbery suspect, his entire approach was wrong. And as far as being “disobedient”, there wasn’t enough time to even assess that possibility.

      The cop should be doing 3-10 years in prison for negligent homicide (at least).

  4. The stoner clearly had it coming. He was driving with a broken brake light. A broken brake light!. We can’t allow monsters like this to roam our streets. Moreover, the dead man had the audacity to have some passing resemblance to someone else who committed a crime.

    I think what this really proves is that guns only cause problems for the world and no one should have them.

    1. You obviously drew the wrong conclusion. Not only shouldn’t anybody have guns. Nobody should have cars. Can’t get pulled over for a broken tail light if you don’t have a car!! How could you have missed something so obvious? Simpleton.

      1. What cars? What guns. We need more abortions! If the cop had been aborted, he never would have killed anyone!

      2. What cars? What guns. We need more abortions! If the cop had been aborted, he never would have killed anyone!

  5. Yanez created these excuses after the fact to cover-up an uncomfortable truth. He butchered an innocent man in front of a child. You ruined so many lives Yanez. You’re going to hell if you don’t come clean.

  6. disregarding the request for his driver’s license.

    Sigh. Yanez didn’t request the driver’s license. He requested confirmation of its existence or presence.

    1. And for that he deserved to die. Right.

    2. I’m not sure what exactly he said, but if it was something like “do you have your license with you”, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to interpret that as a request to produce it.

  7. If a mob beat that cop to death and I was on the jury, I’d vote to acquit. And I hope he lives the rest of his life in fear of that happening.

  8. Want to eliminate gun violence?

    Begin by disarming the police and recruiting people with courage when unarmed.

    1. Why do these sorts of dumb ideas always separate violence into categories? Is “gun” violence worse than “knife” violence or “golf club” violence or “baseball bat” violence? If all the guns were eliminated today, you’d still have violence tomorrow – just a different “category”.

      Statistically, the violence problem in America is at least as much a “black” (and to a somewhat lesser degree, hispanic) problem than it is a “gun” problem. If we deported all the blacks and hispanics, the American violence rate would be on par with our neighbors to the north.

      Incidentally, Britain had unarmed officers for quite some time. That works when criminals are compliant (and even polite!) Not so much with American gang bangers.

  9. The mantra “Black Lives Matter” should instead be “Bad Cops Matter”. If the bad cops were weeded out before the fact, there would be no need for BLM. Yanez is a guy who should never have been hired to be a cop. I hope his name spreads through the network so he is forced to look for some other line of work.

    1. This! You’re absolutely right. BLM has been misconstrued due to typical partisan hackery on both sides. Put simply, BLM is trying to shine the light on the unfairness of black people being killed by police with zero repercussions. Are some of their antics unorthodox and possibly counterproductive? Possibly, but show me any movement that has had 100% approval from 100% of the people. It’s not possible. The most staunch opponents of BLM are right wingers who can’t seem to grasp why black folks can’t flock to their ideology. Gee, wonder why that could be? Could it be that no matter how heinous the actions of pussy ass cops who shouldn’t be cops that kill unarmed black people, those conservatives make every excuse in the book why the black person deserved to die? Thought there was this thing called rule of law.. or something. Unless we’re talking about those scary blacks, then fuck it, all bets are off. Yep, can’t see why black folks aren’t flocking to that ideology in droves.

      1. Ever think about what kind of person wants to be a cop? I’ve often thought it breaks down into three categories.

        1) The guy who wants to save the world,
        2) The guy who wants a job that pays well and that’s maybe more interesting than sitting behind a desk,
        3) The guy with a tiny dick who wants to push people around and maybe kill them. The thug with a badge and a gun.

        There are a lot of cops in category 3, but they’re not the majority (yet). The problem is, the cops in categories 1 and 2 don’t do anything to get rid of those in category 3.

  10. Officers with PTSD need to be screened before being allowed to work.

  11. Cops have forfeited their right to interact with the public except in the “heat of the chase” or to serve a warrant. It’s time to develop an R2D2 robot that can interact with vehicle occupants since cops are too scared to properly do their job.

  12. Oh BS. Castile was HIGH. he was a regular pot smoker. He had clear evidence of THC (for pot) in his blood and his friends said he smoked nearly every day. Not only was dope in his blood, but there was amazon jar of dope int he car and marijuana roaches in the ashtray. his possession of a firearm was illegal and he by his own actions made himself an ILLEGAL carrier of a firearm.

    Being under the influence of marijuana while carrying a firearm is a FELONY in my jurisdiction. His history with marijuana means he also committed felony perjury on his 4473 thanks to Obama Era changes in 4473 making it a requirement to admit any use of marijuana on the 4473.

    So lets not talk about this illegal carrier like he was a legal one. It reminds me of defenders of Vic Mensa saying he was a legal carrier when he concealed carried his gun in California claiming his Illinois license covered him (when Illinois own course makes it clear it does not).

    No one is glad Castile is dead, but is 100% false to claim he was a “legal carrier.” He had REASON to not cooperate with the cop — because he was committing a FELONY.

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