The jury of 12, including two black people, had to sort through the competing narratives. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers said the video footage supported their version of events.
At Officer Yanez’s trial, in this small courtroom in downtown St. Paul, defense lawyers made repeated mention of Mr. Castile’s and Ms. Reynolds’s use of marijuana. The drug was found in Mr. Castile’s car after the shooting, and Mr. Gray said that Mr. Castile had been under the influence of marijuana and delayed in his reactions at the time of the shooting.
“We’re not saying that Philando Castile was going to shoot Officer Yanez,” Mr. Gray said. “What we’re saying is that he did not follow orders. He was stoned.”
But Mr. Paulsen, the prosecutor, said that version of events was contradicted by video. He said footage showed that Mr. Castile was driving normally, pulled over quickly and was alert and courteous when talking to Officer Yanez. He accused the defense of blaming the victim.
“He offered no resistance,” Mr. Paulsen said of Mr. Castile. “He made no threats. He didn’t even complain about being stopped for such a minor offense.”
In the end, I think the jury got it right. While I think a preponderance of the evidence points to wrongdoing on the part of the officer, there isn’t enough evidence to meet the threshold of “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The details really matter in this case.
First, Castile properly declared that he had a gun in the vehicle. He did it calmly, but he did not specify that he had a concealed carry permit. Such a declaration does indicate that he was not trying to be deceptive, but it also puts the officer on edge.
I have been pulled over more than once when carrying a firearm. I was instructed to behave in a way that was as non-threatening as possible. I turn on the dome light and keep my hands on the steering wheel. When the officer asks for my ID, I present it with my concealed carry license. At this point, the officer usually asks if I am carrying and where the firearm is. Then we go about our business. I had one officer in Texas once ask me to surrender my firearm for the duration of the stop, which I did. He returned it at the end of the process and we were both on our way. At no point do I ever utter the words, “I have a gun.” Even when said nicely and calmly, such a declaration has ominous overtones. That being said, Castile’s action was ill-advised, but shouldn’t have gotten him killed.
Second, it seems clear that Castile was stoned. That, in and of itself, is also no reason to shoot him, but it would make his behavior unusual. If he was moving erratically, speaking oddly, and reached for something, it would not be unreasonable for the officer to read malicious intent in Castile’s behavior – especially when the officer was already suspicious that Castile might have just committed a robbery.
Third, the officer could have been much clearer with his instructions. When Castile informed him that he was armed, the officer could have queried him about it more. And if the officer already thought that Castile might be a threat, he should have clearly instructed him to remain completely still.
In the end, it looks like a series of poor decisions and misinterpreted actions led to the officer killing Castile. It should not have happened, but I lean toward thinking that the jury got it right. I suspect that a civil suit will have different results.