Jury selection began Tuesday for the trial of Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer charged in last July’s fatal shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile.
Yanez, 29, is charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.
The case is being heard in the Ramsey County District Court in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota, and the court is expected to take several days to narrow the pool of 50 prospective jurors. One woman has already been dismissed from the jury pool after it was determined she was related to Yanez.
According to the Pioneer Press, the jury pool contains “a handful of people of color,” and a little more than half are men.
A friend and former colleague of Castile who attended court on Tuesday told the Pioneer Press he wished the jury pool was “a little more diverse,” but he still believed they can be fair.
Here’s what you need to know:
What we know about the shooting
- Reuters/Adam Bettcher
Yanez shot Castile on July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb of Minnesota.
Castile’s death immediately drew national attention, as Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds had livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, where it quickly went viral.
In the video, which also features Reynold’s then-four-year-old daughter in the backseat, Reynolds can be heard calmly speaking to Yanez and describing the events that had unfolded.
Reynolds says in the video that they had been pulled over due to a busted tail light, at which point Castile informed Yanez he had a firearm and was reaching for his wallet when Yanez opened fire.
In the video, Yanez can be heard shouting expletives and yelling, “I told him not to reach for it,” as Reynolds responds, “You told him to get his ID, sir. His driver’s license.”
Reynolds is expected to testify at trial. Prosecutors have said that in addition to her’ Facebook Live video of the shooting’s aftermath, footage taken from the police cruiser also captured video and audio of the incident and its aftermath. It is expected to be played for the first time in public at the trial, according to the Pioneer Press.
The first day of Yanez’s trial
Two of the issues already in contention are Castile’s marijuana use on the day he was fatally shot, and whether his permit to carry a gun was obtained legally.
Yanez’s defense attorney Earl Gray argued in a motion that all references to Castile’s permit should be struck from the transcripts jurors will be provided with, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. Reynolds had referred to Castile’s permit three times on video taken during and after the incident.
Gray reportedly said the inclusion of such references would be “opening the door” to whether the defense could argue that Castile had lied about using marijuana on his application for the permit. One of the prosecutors, Jeffrey Paulsen, argued that any inaccuracy on the application, which was submitted in 2015, was irrelevant as it was not known to Yanez at the time of the incident.
The dispute is expected to be more fully resolved Wednesday, although Judge William Leary proposed that Reynolds’ references to the permit be omitted from the trial and the jury instructed not to wonder whether Castile had a permit.
Leary also granted a motion from the defense to question Reynolds on the stand about a marijuana purchase she and Castile had reportedly made just hours before the shooting, although he did not compel prosecutors to re-interview her.
Reynolds has said the pair did not smoke it in Castile’s car, and Castile did not ingest any on the day of the shooting. Toxicology tests turned up some THC in his blood, but prosecutors have argued that its presence does not prove Castile smoked it that same day.
What we know about Yanez
- St. Anthony’s police department.
Yanez, who is 29 years old and Latino, has worked for the St. Anthony Police Department since 2011.
He is believed to be the first police officer in Minnesota to be charged with killing a civilian, according to the Star Tribune. His defense attorneys have maintained that he shot Castile in self-defense.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, have emphasized that Castile was not resisting or fleeing when Yanez shot him.
“No reasonable officer, knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would’ve used deadly force under these circumstances,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told media. “There simply was no objective threat posted to Officer Yanez.”
Some policing experts have raised questions around law enforcement seminars Yanez attended, including one called “The Bulletproof Warrior” conducted by private company Calibre Press. The seminar has been criticized for fostering paranoia among officers, although the firm says the course is actually designed to save lives.
The challenges in prosecuting police officers
As has been the case with many fatal police encounters in recent years, it is notoriously difficult to prosecute police officers. Just this month, for instance, Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher, which occurred just months after Castile’s death.
Experts have suggested that despite being presented with video evidence of the shootings, juries – especially those made up of white Americans or middle-class black Americans – are still reluctant to overcome the so-called “halo effect” surrounding police officers that presumes their innocence.
“The interesting thing about video footage is that it’s still subject to interpretation,” Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Business Insider last summer.
“It takes a motivated prosecutor and a good prosecutor to convince whoever they have to convince that what you’re seeing on the video is illegal behavior.”