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Defense expert: Shooting Castile was Yanez’s only choice

By Jon Collins and Riham Feshir

MPR.org/90.1 FM

ST. PAUL — St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez’s decision to use deadly force against Philando Castile during a July traffic stop was justified, his defense’s use-of-force expert told jurors Thursday.

Joseph Dutton, a former Mound and Golden Valley cop, said Yanez did everything right that day and that he had no other option after Castile told him that he had a firearm and did not immediately obey the officer’s commands.

“There wasn’t time to do anything else,” Dutton said.

Dutton’s perspective came a day after the prosecution’s expert ripped Yanez for what he called an “excessive” and “inappropriate” use of deadly force after viewing squad dashcam video of the incident. Yanez’s lawyers indicated Thursday that Yanez will take the stand Friday in his own defense.

Under questioning from prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen, Dutton acknowledged that in the three criminal cases involving police use of force where he’s been an expert witness, he’s always agreed with the police officer.

Asked why is why he didn’t mention in his written report the comments made by Castile and his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, captured on Yanez’s squad cam, that he wasn’t reaching for a gun, Dutton replied they weren’t “relevant to my report.”

When Paulsen asked why Yanez didn’t tell any officers on the scene that he’d explicitly seen a gun, Dutton said he believed Yanez saw a gun because he later described Castile’s hand in a shape like the letter C.
Where was the gun?

Dutton’s remarks came at the end of a day that Yanez character witnesses who told of his kindness over the years as well as testimony from police officers and other first-responders who arrived at the scene after Yanez shot Castile.

St. Paul firefighter and EMT Juan Cortez was helping colleagues as they worked to get a wounded Philando Castile ready to be rushed to the hospital when he heard a metal clanking sound. Then he heard one of the officers on scene say, “gun.”

He turned and saw Castile’s gun in the officer’s hand, but he couldn’t answer a key question: how it got there. He said he did not see anyone pat Castile down. Cortez clarified that didn’t mean it didn’t happen, but he didn’t see it.

Cortez was the first defense witness called by lawyers for St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who faces second-degree manslaughter and weapons charges for shooting and killing Castile during a July traffic stop.

Cortez’s description was one of several accounts explaining parts of the discovery and location of Castile’s gun after the shooting. Roseville police officer Grant Dattilo testified later that he was helping give medical support to Castile, putting him on a backboard, when he said he saw the handle of the gun sticking out of Castile’s right front pocket. Later in the day, Roseville officer Zachary Wiesner testified he saw gun slide out of Castile’s pocket when he was being put in back board.

The prosecution rested its case following testimony from its use-of-force expert, who ripped Yanez for his actions that day, calling it an “excessive” and “inappropriate” use of deadly force given the situation.
Judge rejects call to acquit

The defense on Thursday called on the court to acquit Yanez on all counts, arguing the prosecution’s case didn’t offer sufficient evidence to convict and didn’t delve deeply enough into Yanez’s state of mind at the stop. The statute Yanez is charged under requires prosecutors to show he acted with culpable negligence — that he was reckless and acted unreasonably for the situation.

The defense has argued that Yanez had a legitimate fear for his life after Castile told him he had a weapon in the car and didn’t respond quickly enough to the officer’s commands to not move.

Judge William Leary denied the motion to acquit, moving the trial forward.

The defense also called Yanez’s boss, St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth, who testified to Yanez’s character. He said he chose him for the crime prevention team and that he’s good with the community and sometimes acted as the department’s voice at events. He testified that Yanez has no disciplinary problems in his record, and no citizen complaints that he knew of.

He didn’t specifically discuss the traffic stop where Yanez killed Castile. He said he’s never seen the video from Yanez’s squad camera showing the confrontation, which was played earlier in the trial.

Mangseth talked generally about police use of force. He said he teaches officers to be safe and make sure to go home at the end of the night. “When all else fail … ultimately in a use-of-force situation, it’s whatever it takes,” he told jurors.