Charges in Castile shooting may be first against Minn. officer

Published 10:16 am Thursday, November 17, 2016

By MPR Staff

MPR News/90.1 FM

The decision to charge St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Castile is an anomaly.

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Despite the hundreds of times police officers shoot and kill people while on duty, it’s rare they face murder or manslaughter charges.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s charges in the Castile case mark the first time an officer has been charged for a fatal shooting in Minnesota in more than 200 cases that spanned over three decades, said ex-FBI agent Larry Brubaker, who has researched and written two books on fatal officer-involved shootings that have occurred in Minnesota.

A look at the case shows why Choi did what activists have wanted for years: File charges against an officer in a fatal shooting.

Yanez faces charges of second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

Police officers across the country shoot and kill people 900 to 1,000 times a year, according to a database created by Phil Stinson, an associate professor of criminology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

In many cases, state laws and court decisions have justified officers’ use of deadly force.

Stinson found that over the past 12 years, 77 officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter. Of those 77 officers, 27 were convicted.

When force is justified

In Minnesota, state law can explain part of the reason it’s so rare: Officers are given much more legal latitude to use fatal force.

For civilians, the law is much stricter. The entire state statute that governs instances in which a civilian is legally justified in killing another is a sentence long:

“The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor’s place of abode.”

For officers, the law is much longer. To summarize, state code says that using deadly force while on duty is justified in these situations:

•When it is needed “to protect the peace officer or another from apparent death or great bodily harm”

•To arrest, capture or prevent from escaping a person the officer “knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened use of deadly force”

•To arrest, capture or stop escape of someone the officer “knows or has reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or great bodily harm if the person’s apprehension is delayed”