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Jeronimo Yanez charged with second-degree manslaughter for Philando Castile's death

Philando Castile's final moments alive were captured on film by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds.

Philando Castile's final moments alive were captured on film by his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two other felonies for killing Philando Castile. 

Such serious criminal charges against a law enforcement officer for on-duty conduct are extraordinary in Minnesota, which has no modern record of a cop facing justice for the shooting of a suspect. 

Castile, 32, was fatally shot during a routine traffic stop in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights in early July. Castile had previously been pulled over dozens of times for various minor driving offenses in the area.

At the time of his shooting, local police were on the lookout for an armed robbery suspect. Yanez thought Castile matched the description of the wanted man, citing a "wide-set nose," a racially tinged description that Ramsey County Attorney John Choi mentioned during his announcement Wednesday morning.

In explaining why he took the step of prosecuting, Choi said Yanez's decision to shoot Castile left him no choice. 

"To all those who would say this incident was Philando Castile's fault," Choi said, "I would submit that no reasonable officer knowing, seeing, and hearing what officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under his circumstances."

Castile had informed Yanez, an officer with the St. Anthony Police Department, that he had a licensed gun on him at the time. 

Yanez took a movement from Castile to be a grab for his weapon, and shot him several times. Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, was sitting in the passenger seat, and immediately began filming the aftermath of the shooting on her phone, uploading the video to Facebook.

Her four-year-old daughter sat in the backseat as Castile bled out and died on camera.

The presence of Reynolds and her daughter made Yanez's potential punishment worse: Choi also charged the cop with two counts of "intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon," both felonies, for taking shots that endangered Castile's passengers.

The charge of second-degree manslaughter comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and/or a $20,000 fine. Each dangerous weapon count carries a maximum of five years and/or $10,000.

Choi said the dashcam in Yanez's squad car recorded audio and video of the incident, and said those recordings would not be made available at this time. The complaint against Yanez uses that audio to set the scene of Castile's final moments alive.

"Sir," Castile told Yanez, "I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me."

Yanez moved his hand to his then-holstered weapon and told the driver not to reach for his gun. 

"I'm not pulling it out," Castile said.

"Don't pull it out!" Yanez screamed, instantly taking out his own weapon and beginning to fire at Castile from point-blank range. Yanez pulled the trigger seven times.

Castile's last words were, "I wasn't reaching for it." Yanez, in response, said again: "Don't pull it out." Then: "Don't move! Fuck!"

Interviewed by another police officer soon after the shooting, Yanez explained: 

"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 straight ahead, and the I was getting fucking nervous, and then I told him, I know I fucking told him to get his fucking hand off his gun."

As other officers performed CPR on Castile in a futile attempt to save his life, they found his loaded handgun in the pocket of his shorts. Later, after Castile was taken to HCMC -- where he was declared dead -- hospital staffers found his wallet and a permit to carry license in another pocket.

The day after the shooting, Yanez was interviewed by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He told an investigator that he was "in fear for my life and the life of my partner," adding that he also feared for the "life of the little girl in the backseat."

Later in the same interview, Yanez said he tried to aim his shots away from Reynolds' daughter. 

Yanez's partner, Joseph Kauser, was standing on the other side of Castile's car at the time Yanez started pulling the trigger. Kauser overheard some of their conversation, but did not know Castile had announced he had a gun on him. He says Castile shifted some in his seat while Yanez spoke to him. Asked by an investigator if he was surprised that Yanez began shooting Castile, Kauser said, "absolutely."

The county attorney's office retained the services of Jeffrey Noble, a police procedure expert, according to the complaint. Noble's review of the incident found Yanez's use of his weapon under the circumstances "was not necessary, was objectionably unreasonable and was inconsistent with generally accepted police practices."

Yanez is due for a first court appearance at 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.