Don Lewis retained as special prosecutor to help on Philando Castile case


Ramsey County Attorney John Choi is still in charge of the criminal case against police officers involved in the shooting death of Philando Castile.

But Choi's getting a little outside help. 

The county attorney announced Friday morning that he has retained a single outside prosecutor to join the investigatory team. Choi picked Don Lewis, a veteran attorney with the Nilan Johnson Lewis firm.

Lewis was described by Choi as having "deep roots in the Rondo neighborhood," the historically black area of St. Paul where Castile was raised.  

"This is, ultimately, what justice requires," Choi said. 

Asked directly, Choi declined to say that Lewis' race was a factor in his selection.

Donald Lewis has a long history of handling, or helping on high-profile cases.

Donald Lewis has a long history of handling, or helping on high-profile cases.

Lewis previously served as a prosecutor with the federal Department of Justice, and has also been recruited as a special investigator on touchy, high-profile incidents, such as the University of Minnesota basketball team's academic fraud scandal, and the review of a police arrest of black Minneapolis activist Al Flowers.

Choi stressed that Lewis was not merely a "consultant," saying he would be an "integral partner," and "substantially involved in our decision."

Lewis, for his part, said he "shares [Choi's] vision" of his role with the prosecuting team. 

"John has assured me that my involvement in the team will be substantial, meaningful, and visible," Lewis said, adding that he hopes his work will add to the levels of trust among "those who today, expect the least, and fear the worst from our criminal justice system."

Choi's decision came after weeks of pressure from groups like the NAACP, ACLU, and members of the Castile family. Most advocates for a special prosecutor said their position was not an attack on Choi personally, but said it was the best way to ensure a fair process.

Choi argued that, in electing him, Ramsey County voters had entrusted him to handle the cases that came before his office. By bringing in an outside prosecutor, he would be "abdicating" responsbility to an "unaccountable special prosecutor without an election certificate," who might "not be beholden to any of these values or obligations" that Choi feels. 

Choi again delayed his decision on using the grand jury process for a potential indictment of Geromino Yanez, the St. Anthony Police Department officer who shot and killed Castile early this month. Choi did say Friday his office has a "longstanding policy" of using the grand jury process, but did not say when that decision would come in the Castile case. 

Castile, 32, was killed earlier this month after being pulled over in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights. The aftermath of his shooting was filmed by his girlfiriend, Diamond Reynolds, who posted the video to Facebook. The story inspired international media coverage and weeks of protests directed at both police and Gov. Mark Dayton, with hundreds arrested in St. Paul. 

"I understand there is distrust of the system," Choi said, explaining why he would not be handling the case alone.