Philando Castile police shooting might go to grand jury


The police shooting of Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man reportedly pulled over for a busted taillight, will be presented to a grand jury. Unless it isn't. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi made this non-announcement Friday morning, explaining that, while "it has long been the practice of this office to present such cases to a grand jury," he would "decide at a later time, after additional thought," whether to use that system in this case. 

Grand juries have been widely criticized for the extreme unlikelihood that any police officer's case leads to a criminal indictment. Choi, acknowledging that no officers have been indicted for an on-duty shooting during his six years in office, intimated that's because there is a "very difficult standard" to meet. 

"The law in the state of Minnesota gives a lot of protections to police officers," Choi said. "The law is the same whether it's the grand jury or the prosecutor's decision."

Should grand jurors, or Choi himself, choose to bring charges against the cop who pulled the trigger (more on him later), Choi promised to "prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law."

Choi has generally been a strong supporter of the grand jury process for officer-involved shootings. In March, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided (boldly, some thought) not to use a grand jury in the police shooting of Jamar Clark — or ever again. Choi still defended their employment at that time, telling the Star Tribune he thinks "the grand jury process can be improved," but said he "hasn't come to the conclusion that Mike [Freeman] has."

John Choi says the law "gives a lot of protection" to cops in cases like that of Philando Castile.

John Choi says the law "gives a lot of protection" to cops in cases like that of Philando Castile.

Just yesterday, a grand jury pool declined to indict Roseville police officers who shot and killed John Birkeland, a 52-year-old man with a long track record of alcoholism and depression, in February of this year. Birkeland was armed with a knife at the time, and used it to stab a police K-9 that had bit his leg. Officers involved said Birkeland posed an immediate threat to them; police body cameras were in use, but were obscured during the moment of the shooting. 

The Strib reports that Birkeland's death is the 148th to come at the hands of police since 2000. None of those deaths has led to criminal charges against the officers involved. 

Speaking of officers involved: Wednesday night, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) identified  St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez as the cop who approached Castile, in the driver's seat, and fired the fatal shots.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner announced Wednesday that Castile had died of "multiple gunshot wounds," but did not specify how many; Diamond Reynolds, Castile's girlfriend, passenger, and the videographer of his death scene, has said she heard Yanez fire five shots, point blank. Yanez's partner, Joseph Kauser, was on the passenger's side of the vehicle, and did not discharge his gun.

The BCA is handling the local investigation of the Castile shooting, and has requested that any witnesses to the event call 651-793-7000 to assist its investigation.