People Are Divided Over the Charges Against the Cop Who Killed Philando Castile

November 16th 2016

Tricia Tongco

On Wednesday, Jeronimo Yanez, the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for shooting Castile seven times during a traffic stop in July. 

During a press conference Tuesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced he had filed charges against Yanez after deciding the "use of deadly force by Officer [Jeronimo] Yanez was not justified."

Choi continued:

“To those of you may say this incident was Philando Castile’s fault, I would submit that no reasonable officer — knowing, seeing and hearing what officer Yanez did at the time — would have used deadly force under these circumstances ... I have given officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for.”

Castile's death was livestreamed on Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car along with her four-year-old daughter when he was shot in Minnesota. According to a newly released police report, Castille informed the Yanez during the traffic stop that he was carrying a firearm. The report further states that Yanez told Castille not to reach for his weapon, to which Castille replied "I'm not pulling it out." For reasons that are not clear from the police report, Yanez then fired seven shots into the car, killing Castille. Moments after the shooting, Yanez told a local police department officer that he "feared for his life." 

The shooting spurred outrage due in part to it's timing; Castille's death followed the Baton Rouge Police Department's fatal shooting of Alton Sterling. Several days later, a gunman killed multiple police officers during a protest against police brutality in Dallas.

The charges against Yanez have prompted a mixed response on social media. 

Some Twitter users said, in their opinion, justice would not be served unless Yanez was convicted. 

Their skepticism is grounded in the fact that, according to the Mapping Police Violence database, “97 percent of [police brutality] cases in 2015 did not result in any officers being charged with a crime.” In Alton Sterling's case, the two Baton Rouge officers who were involved in his death, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, were never charged and put on paid administrative leave, despite a history of complaints regarding the use of excessive force.

Others argued that the charge was not serious enough in the first place.

In Minnesota, the distinction between second-degree manslaughter and second-degree murder depends on the intent of the accused. According to the Minnesota Revisor of Statutes, second-degree manslaughter is caused by a "person's culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another." Whereas second-degree murder happens when somebody "causes the death of a human being with intent to effect the death of that person or another, but without premeditation." 

There's a significant difference in the sentencing between the two charges as well. A second-degree manslaughter conviction would result in “not more than ten years or to payment of a fine of not more than $20,000, or both” while a second degree murder conviction would result in a sentencing of “imprisonment for not more than 40 years.”