Closing arguments are set to begin on Monday in the trial of a Minnesota police officer charged with fatally shooting a black motorist during a traffic stop last year, the aftermath of which was streamed on social media by the driver’s girlfriend.
St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was charged with second-degree manslaughter, was covered nationally and led to weeks of protests in St. Paul and Minneapolis after he fatally shot Philando Castile, 32, last July.
Yanez, who pleaded not guilty, testified on Friday in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul that Castile disregarded the officer’s commands and began reaching for a firearm he had disclosed he had in his possession.
“I was scared to death. I thought I was going to die,” he said in response to questions from his attorney. “I had no other choice.”
The shooting in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, like similar incidents across the United States, fueled public debate about appropriate use of force by law enforcement against minorities.
The police video of the traffic stop and the Facebook Live post by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the passenger seat next to him, were played in court Monday. Yanez fired seven shots, hitting Castile five times, including twice in the heart, prosecutors said.
Reynolds said last week that she showed the video because she did not trust police. She testified she was afraid for her 4-year-old daughter, who was in the vehicle’s back seat.
Yanez previously said he was justified in stopping Castile’s car because he resembled a suspect in a convenience store robbery, court documents said. Castile’s vehicle also had a broken brake light.
After Castile was stopped, Yanez asked him to present his driver’s license and insurance card. Castile disclosed he was carrying a licensed handgun. The exchange took just over a minute. Castile’s gun permit was later found in his wallet.
(Reporting by Todd Melby, Writing by Ben Klayman; editing by Grant McCool)