Expert: Officer had no reason to see Castile as a threat

Published 8:14 am Thursday, June 8, 2017

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota officer who fatally shot a black motorist last July acted unreasonably, according to an expert on police use of force who testified Wednesday that the officer had no reason to believe that the man was a threat.

Jeffrey Noble went through squad car video while testifying Wednesday in the trial of St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is charged with manslaughter in the death of Philando Castile. Yanez, who is Latino, shot Castile during a traffic stop after the 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker told him he was carrying a gun.

Noble told jurors that Yanez’s actions were “objectively unreasonable” as he reviewed video that shows Yanez approaching Castile’s car, then firing inside.

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“There is absolutely no reason to believe that Mr. Castile was some kind of threat,” he said.

The shooting gained attention when Castile’s girlfriend began livestreaming its aftermath on Facebook. Defense attorneys say the officer had to act quickly to protect himself.

Paulsen noted that just five seconds elapsed from the time that Castile said he had a firearm and when Yanez opened fire. Noble called it a short amount of time, and said Yanez should have taken different actions, such as ordering Castile to put his hands on the steering wheel.

Also Wednesday, jurors saw autopsy graphic photos as Dr. Andrew Baker, chief medical examiner for Hennepin County, talked about Castile’s fatal injuries. Castile was hit by five of seven bullets fired by Yanez, Baker said. Two of them caused severe damage as they tore through Castile’s heart, he said.

“Either one of those wounds by itself would have been fatal, and I don’t believe there’s anything the surgeons could have done differently,” Baker said.

A toxicologist undercut one aspect of the officer’s defense by testifying that there’s no way to tell when Castile last smoked marijuana or whether he was still intoxicated during the deadly encounter.

The autopsy results included blood levels of THC, the compound in marijuana that produces its high. Defense attorneys have argued that Castile was to blame for the shooting because he had been smoking marijuana, was stoned that night and failed to obey the officer’s instructions.

Kristin Engebretsen, a toxicologist at Regions Hospital in St. Paul, said the effects of marijuana and how long it stays in a user’s system vary. However, she also acknowledged that marijuana’s effects can include impaired judgment and an inability to follow directions.

Earlier Wednesday, Lindsey Garfield, a lab supervisor for the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified about the trajectory of bullets fired into Castile’s car. One landed in the center armrest, 1 or 2 inches from where Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was sitting. The other went into the back seat, where Reynolds’ then-4-year-old daughter was seated.

Yanez, 29, is also charged with two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm for endangering the two passengers.