Friday 24 November 2017

US police officer acquitted over fatal shooting of black motorist

Jeronimo Yanez was cleared of manslaughter (AP)
Jeronimo Yanez was cleared of manslaughter (AP)

A Minnesota police officer has been acquitted of manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a black motorist.

Jeronimo Yanez was also cleared of two lesser charges in relation to the incident in a St Paul suburb.

Mr Yanez shot Philando Castile five times just seconds after Mr Castile informed him he was carrying a gun.

The officer testified that Mr Castile was pulling his gun out of his pocket despite his commands not to do so. The defence also argued Mr Castile was high on marijuana and said that affected his actions.

Mr Castile had a permit for the weapon and prosecutors questioned whether Mr Yanez ever saw the gun. They argued the officer overreacted and that Mr Castile was not a threat.

The case received immediate attention because Mr Castile's girlfriend streamed the aftermath live on Facebook.

AP

Mr Yanez, who is Latino, was charged with second-degree manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

He also faced two lesser counts of endangering Mr Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.

Mr Castile's shooting was among a string of killings of black people by police around the US, and the livestreaming of its aftermath attracted even more attention.

The public outcry included protests in Minnesota that shut down highways and surrounded the governor's mansion.

Mr Castile's family claimed he was profiled because of his race, and the shooting renewed concerns about how police officers interact with minorities.

Minnesota Democratic governor Mark Dayton also weighed in, saying he did not think the shooting would have happened if Mr Castile had been white.

Mr Yanez testified that he stopped Mr Castile in the St Paul suburb of Falcon Heights because he thought the 32-year-old school cafeteria worker looked like one of two men who had robbed a nearby convenience store a few days earlier.

Mr Castile's car had a faulty brake light, giving the 29-year-old officer a legally sufficient pretext for pulling him over, several experts testified.

Police car video played repeatedly for the jury shows a wide view of the traffic stop and the shooting, with the camera pointed toward Mr Castile's car.

While it captures what was said between the two men and shows Mr Yanez firing into the vehicle, it does not show what happened inside the car or what Mr Yanez might have seen.

The video shows the situation escalated quickly, with Mr Yanez shooting Mr Castile just seconds after he volunteered, "Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me."

Five of the officer's seven shots struck Mr Castile. Witnesses testified that the gun was in a pocket of Mr Castile's shorts when paramedics removed him from his vehicle.

Prosecutors called several witnesses to try to show that Mr Yanez never saw the gun and acted recklessly and unreasonably. But defence attorneys called their own witnesses to back up Mr Yanez's claim that he saw Mr Castile pulling the gun and that Mr Yanez was right to shoot.

AP

Press Association

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