Interviews contradict Jeronimo Yanez trial testimony he saw Philando Castile’s gun

Star Tribune file, Ramsey County

Star Tribune file, Ramsey County

Philando Castile was driving with his girlfriend and her daughter through Falcon Heights on July 6, 2016 when he was pulled over by former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.

Castile volunteered that he was carrying a firearm. Yanez ordered him not to reach for it. Yanez fired seven shots into the car, and Castile lay dying in the driver’s seat as his girlfriend began to broadcast on Facebook live.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension took over the investigation and soon identified Yanez as the shooter.

Four days after a jury acquitted Yanez on all charges – manslaughter and two counts of reckless discharge of a dangerous weapon – the BCA has released its investigative files to the public.

They include the BCA’s interviews with Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds; paramedic Eric Torgerson who witnessed an officer “put his hand quite a ways down” Castile’s pocket to remove a gun; Yanez's partner Joseph Kauser, who said he was surprised to hear shots fired; and a critical interview with Yanez the day after the shooting.

The BCA case file includes a conversation caught on a squad microphone which took place between Yanez and St. Anthony Police Officer Tressa Sunde within minutes of the shooting.  That interview can be heard at the 8:10 mark of the dashcam video below. (Warning: Graphic video.)

Yanez was recorded saying to Sunde: “[Castile] was sitting in the car, seat belted. I told him, can I see your license. And then, he told me he had a firearm. I told him not to reach for it and (sigh) when he went down to grab, I told him not to reach for it (clears throat) and then he kept it right there, and I told him to take his hands off of it, and then he (sigh) he had his, his grip a lot wider than a wallet.”

Later in the same conversation, Yanez went on to say, “And I don’t know where the gun was, he didn’t tell me where the fucking gun was, and then it was just getting hinky, he gave, he was just staring ahead, and then I was getting fucking nervous, and then I told him, I know I fucking told him to get his fucking hand off his gun.”

While jurors indicated they were torn over whether Yanez ever saw Castile’s gun or not, they never got to weigh the now-former officer’s BCA interview because the prosecution failed to bring it up during the presentation of the case. Instead, the prosecution strategically tried to bring the BCA transcript in during its cross-examination of Yanez.

The judge rejected this attempted introduction of new evidence.

In that BCA examination, Yanez said he had first asked Castile for identification. Castile informed Yanez he had a firearm, while reaching down between his right leg and the center console. Yanez said he ordered Castile not to reach for “it,” referring to the gun. He said Castile continued to move.

“It appeared to me that [Castile] had no regard to what I was saying. And, he put his hand around something. And his hand made like a C-type shape and it appeared to me that he was wrapping something around his fingers and almost like if I were to put my hand around my gun. It was dark inside the vehicle. I was trying to fumble my way through under stress to look and see what it was to make sure what I was seeing,”

Later in the same interview, Yanez continued:

“I know he had an object and it was dark. And he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die. … He just had something in his hands.”

Though Yanez said he “thought [Castile] was reaching for the gun,” he could never state definitively in his BCA interview that he saw a firearm that day. Yanez used various terms to suggest the presence of a firearm, saying at one point that "it seemed like he was pulling out a gun and the barrel just kept coming." He added: "It was to me it just looked big and apparent that he's gonna shoot you, he's gonna kill you."

Still later, Yanez was asked again about "the object" he thought he saw Castile holding. Could he describe how big it was?

"It was, to me it loooked like [Castile's hand] was wrapped around the butt of a gun."

Nearly a year later, when he took the stand during his trial, Yanez was more certain. He testified that he was “able to see the firearm in Mr. Castile’s hand,” forcing him to shoot.

“I had no other choice," Yanez told the jury. "I didn’t want to shoot Mr. Castile. Those were not my intentions.”

The gun which Yanez claimed to see was later pulled from Castile's pocket, just as paramedics prepared to load him into an ambulance.