Jeronimo Yanez, a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of unlawful discharge of a firearm in connection to his fatal shooting of Philando Castile in July.
Castile was a lawful gun owner who informed Yanez he was carrying a weapon in the car after being pulled over in a traffic spot. Based on transcripts released by the district attorney—who decided to file charges without consulting a grand jury—it appears that Yanez escalated the situation after Castile’s disclosure, ultimately shooting him seven times even though Castile appeared to never reach for or grab his gun. The aftermath of the shooting was streamed on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car at the time and who also tried to calm the officer down before the shooting. Yanez’s partner never drew his own firearm during the entire encounter.
In announcing his decision that the shooting was unjustified and that Yanez should be charged, the district attorney ,John Choi, said it wasn’t enough for an officer “to express subjective fear of death or great bodily harm” in order to justify the decision to fire at someone.
Yanez, unsurprisingly, was initially defended by his department. He was placed on administrative leave briefly, then returned to active duty before being placed on leave again in August. Yanez remains employed the police department even as he faces criminal charges for actions taken while on duty.
The pervasive mindset in police culture around the country that officers should not be terminated from their positions before the resolution of criminal charges is deeply disturbing—police officers deserve due process as all people do, but due process is a concept applied to government attempts to deprive you of life and liberty, and not to government attempts to terminate their own employees. The application of such a high standard to mere employment has helped foster an environment in which police accountability and transparency are woefully adequate. Yanez is the first officer charged in the more than 150 police killings that occurred in Minnesota since 2000.
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