At request of defendant’s attorneys, new judge assigned to Yanez case

A new head judge has been assigned to preside over the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last July.

Yanez, who received felony charges of second degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, will face Judge William H. Leary III in the high-profile Ramsey County District Court civil case. 

On Jan. 3, Ramsey County Chief Judge John Guthmann took Judge Edward Wilson off the Yanez case at the behest of Yanez’s attorneys, who have filed a motion to dismiss the charges, emphasizing that the evidence lacks a probable cause. 

Wilson was replaced by Leary, a Ramsey County District Court judge since 2002.

In Minnesota, both defense and prosecuting attorneys are allowed under state law to file to remove a judge from a case once, without providing reason.

One of Yanez’s attorneys, Earl Gray, made that request back in December, but didn’t publicly note what led to the decision.

Castile, a 32-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot the evening of July 6 in Falcon Heights, which contracts for police services from nearby St. Anthony Village.

Choi announced the charges at a Nov. 16 press conference, saying Yanez’s stated fear for his life during the stop was unreasonable and not justified for the use of deadly force. 

Yanez shot Castile seven times after he was pulled over in his car on Larpenteur Avenue near the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter were also in the car, accounting for the two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

After Yanez shot Castile, Reynolds took out her phone to live stream the proceedings onto Facebook. The video went viral and in a matter of hours was viewed on screens across the nation, leading to protests and demonstrations in the name of justice for black men killed by police.

On Nov. 16, Choi discussed what the video did not show — what happened beforehand — as seen and heard on police dashboard camera video and audio, which he said will not yet be released to the public because the investigation into the killing is ongoing.

Background

According to the criminal complaint against Yanez that was released along with Choi’s decision to charge, Yanez stated his intent to pull over Castile’s car just after 9 p.m. that night, noting the occupants of the car “just look like the people that were involved in a robbery.” 

Days prior, on July 2, the Super USA convenience store in Lauderdale, just down the street from where Yanez initially spotted Castile’s vehicle, was the scene of an armed robbery. Yanez can be heard on a radio recording saying of Castile, “the driver looks more like one of our suspects just because of the wide-set nose.” 

He then stated a reason for the stop — a non-working brake light — and waited for a back-up officer, Joseph Kauser, to arrive before approaching the vehicle. 

During that time, Yanez ran Castile’s license plate and the results showed the vehicle was registered to Castile, that it was not listed as stolen, and that there were no warrants out for Castile’s arrest.

“As he walked toward the vehicle, Yanez had his right hand on the right side of his duty belt near his gun,” the complaint states, while “Castile was buckled in his seat belt.” 

Yanez then informed Castile of the broken brake light and Kauser approached on the sidewalk near the passenger door of the vehicle. 

The complaint says that Yanez asked for Castile’s license and proof of insurance, which Castile then provided. 

It was then that Castile informed Yanez of a firearm that he had on him — Choi said Castile had a conceal-and-carry license in his wallet at the time he was killed. 

“Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me,” Castile said, according to the complaint.

The complaint said that Yanez interrupted Castile with “OK,” and placed his hand on his gun holster at the same time.

Yanez told Castile “Don’t reach for it then,” to which Castile replied that he was not. The two exchanged nearly identical remarks back and forth, with Reynolds also asserting that her boyfriend was indeed not reaching for his gun. 

The exchange escalated until Yanez drew his gun and fired seven times in rapid succession into the car — the backseat of which was occupied by Reynold’s young child. 

According to the complaint the last shot was fired just after 9:06 p.m. — just about a minute after Castile pulled his car over. 

Choi said Castile’s gun was later found in his foot-deep shorts pocket, loaded, but without a bullet in the chamber. 

Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend,” and at which point Castile moaned his final words: “I wasn’t reaching for it.” 

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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