Justice Watch: Manslaughter Charges in Police Shooting of Philando Castile; Why the Innocent Plead Guilty


Once again a prosecutor is attempting to criminally charge a police officer for the killing of a black man.  In this case, it is the shooting of Philando Castile – Officer Jeronimo Yanez was charged on Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter and accused of “escalating a mundane roadside exchange into a needlessly violent episode.”

The case that occurred during a traffic stop on July 6 quickly escalated when Officer Yanez allegedly “overreacted to the presence of Mr. Castile’s lawfully carried gun and shot him despite pleas that he was not reaching for the weapon.”

“No reasonable officer — knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time — would have used deadly force under these circumstances,” Ramsey County Attorney John J. Choi said.

According to the prosecutor, Mr. Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria worker, was driving with his girlfriend and her daughter.  The officer, in spotting Mr. Castile, believed he matched the description of a suspect in a nearby robbery a few days before.

Officer Yanez radioed in that Mr. Castile’s “wide-set nose” seemed to match the surveillance video from that case, and that his car also had a broken taillight.

However, the New York Times reports that “when Officer Yanez pulled Mr. Castile over in the tiny suburb of Falcon Heights, the conversation described by prosecutors started out as ordinary, with no mention of the robbery and no discussion of the smell of marijuana that Officer Yanez would later recount to investigators.”

The prosecutor confirmed on Wednesday that “Mr. Castile was not a suspect in the armed robbery case.”

The Times continues, “Mr. Castile, who had been pulled over dozens of times before, seemed to know the routine: He kept his seatbelt fastened, greeted Officer Yanez and handed over his insurance card, according to prosecutors’ version of events.”

Mr. Castile then alerted the officer that he had a permit to carry a pistol – “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.”

Officer Yanez warned him, “Don’t pull it out.”

Mr. Castile and his girlfriend assured him he was not grabbing the gun, but Officer Yanez fired seven rounds, killing Mr. Castile just 62 seconds after the traffic stop.  Mr. Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

“His dying words were in protest that he wasn’t reaching for his gun,” Mr. Choi said.

The Times reports, “Officer Yanez would later tell investigators that he feared for his life and that he believed Mr. Castile was trying to grab a gun. But Mr. Choi, the prosecutor, suggested a different narrative. He said that Mr. Castile had gone beyond what the law required in alerting Officer Yanez to his gun, and that he had never drawn the weapon. Paramedics eventually found the weapon, a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, in the pocket of his shorts as they were positioning him on a backboard. There was no round in the chamber.”

Mr. Yanez could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted on the manslaughter count, and up to five years for each of the weapons charges.

An attorney representing the officer said in the days following the shooting that his client was merely “reacting to the presence of a gun” and that Mr. Castile had not followed the officer’s commands.

The police union issued a statement that “it’s important to remember that Officer Yanez is innocent of these charges until proven guilty” and that “nobody is served by a rush to judgment.”

The Innocent Are Pleading Guilty

It is a stunning figure – last year there were 157 exonerations, and in 68 of them, the defendant pleaded guilty to the charges, according to an Associated Press story.

The AP writes, “Critics say the numbers reflect an overwhelmed criminal justice system with public defenders who have more cases than they can handle and expedience on the part of court officials, who can save the government money with plea bargains compared with costly trials.”

“Our criminal justice system has lost its way,” said David O. Markus, a prominent Miami defense attorney. “For a long time, it was our country’s crown jewel, built on the principle that it was better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent be wrongfully convicted. Now sadly, the system accepts and even encourages innocent people to plead guilty.”

Last year, 97 percent of criminal defendants sentenced in federal court pleaded guilty, compared to about 85 percent more than 30 years ago, according to data collected by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The increase in guilty pleas has been a gradual rise over the last three decades.

State courts have a similar rate, although there is no statistic available for all state courts.

“When the penalties are so high, no one wants to take the risk of going to trial because if you lose, you’re going to go away for a long, long time,” said Jed Rakoff, a federal judge in New York.

The AP notes, “No one knows exactly how many innocent people are behind bars for pleading guilty. Sociologists have estimated that between 2 and 8 percent of people who plead guilty are in fact innocent, said Rakoff, who has studied the issue for years.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Tia Will

    Officer Yanez is innocent of these charges until proven guilty”

    This is obviously true in our legal system. And what a shame that he did not consider the possibility that Mr. Castile was also innocent of wrong doing.

    “There was no round in the chamber”

    merely “reacting to the presence of a gun””

    With gun laws extremely lax in many areas of the country, are we going to allow police to use lethal force in “reacting to the presence of a gun” ?  Even if the gun is legal owned and carried ?  Even if the gun is unloaded ?  Even if the detainee has informed you that they are legally carrying ? Would we not expect dead bodies of concealed carry licensed individuals to be littering our streets if this is considered the “reasonable police officer” standard ?

    1. PhillipColeman

      First off, using the narrative described above as being accurate, there was no level of reasonableness in the officer’s actions. It’s silly to have to say this, but the awareness of a deadly weapon does not translate to right to use deadly force. There has to be an overt act to go with the awareness to even approach the threshold of a legally justified homicide. And to repeat, again, fear is a commodity in policing, it’s part of the job description. If we pulled our weapon out every time we were in a fearful circumstance, they’d eliminate holsters from the equipment list. And never is naked fear or the “anticipation” of a consequence. a justification to shoot somebody. Such remarks from an accused police officer or a legal representative is code for, “I’m in really deep trouble.”

      When a plain clothes, undercover, or off-duty police officer is subjected to a traffic stop, and is armed, a pronouncement is immediately made of being armed while both hands remain away from the body. Call it a professional courtesy as the driver has been on the other side of that door and knows full well the danger of traffic stops. The victim’s declaration followed that procedure, in fact the victim could have not done anything more than he did to reduce his peril.

      To the notion of increases of “good citizens” arming themselves, and themselves being stopped for a traffic violation, it’s been discussed in the law enforcement community. What is now a rarity, can potentially become commonplace. I can guarantee you that the demeanor of an approaching traffic enforcer will be more cautious and notably more defensive.

        1. Tia Will

          Chamber Fan

          Since no one more knowledgeable about firearms has chosen to respond to your question, I will give it a go. Please bear in mind that I am attempting to remember back to my father’s lessons to me when I was eight or nine years old.

          It is correct that not having a bullet in the chamber is not the same as the gun being unloaded. The state of being unloaded would imply that there are no bullets in the weapon. Not having a “bullet in the chamber” only means that there is not a bullet in the active chamber ready to be fired. It does not preclude there being live ammunition in the magazine ready to be loaded into the active chamber.

          I am not sure that my explanation is completely accurate, but may suffice to explain the difference. If I am in error, I would love for someone to correct me as I am reaching pretty far back into my memory.

  2. Napoleon Pig IV

    “I’d certainly like to hear from the gun rights supporters on this”

    Perhaps the question would be better constructed to refer to “rights supporters” as opposed to “gun rights supporters.” Gun rights are just one of a broad range of rights that are relevant to this case, not to mention that independent of any rights whatsoever, Yanez is/was a very bad cop.

    I wonder if civilians legally carrying firearms, concealed or not, are more or less likely to be stopped by a cop than a random selection of other civilians. Given that (I hope) the majority of cop stops are based on actual evidence of a crime as opposed to the cop just not liking the way someone looks (being black, for example), then one would predict that cops would often stop armed criminals as opposed to law-abiding armed civilians. If so, then the risk to civilians legally carrying a weapon should not be higher than the risk to other law-abiding civilians.

    There remain, of course, the issues of race and bias toward groups based on general characteristics rather than individual behavior.

    There also remains the issue of a lot of useless and even fully b.s. laws that can be used to define a good person as a law breaker.

    But, the latter two topics are beyond the scope of discussion of this bad cop and his murder of an innocent civilian. Why a charge of manslaughter and not murder??

    1. David Greenwald

      I’ll take on your last question – I think murder is hard to sustain on most but not all police shootings. In this case you have a guy who clearly overreacted to the presence of the gun, if this were a civilian, it would not be a murder two, it would be manslaughter.

  3. Jerry Waszczuk

    Guilty or not guilty .

    I am dealing with Senator Leland Yee’s case.Yee was molested by FBI for 3 years by the Napolitano’s order and he  was attached to Chinese gang  than  promised by Napolitano’s friend  Melinda Haag that he  get  20 years in prison.  The  choice to get 20 years and die in prison or to sign a  plea agreement without other choice was not a choice and Yee signed plea agreement.  One month ago  I asked Senator Feinstein in  the 20 pages letter to talk to President Obama before President Obama  leave the  office to pardon Leland Yee .  I received three letters from Senator Feinstein after Leland Yee was locked up in March 2016.  I thought the the United States is the country without political prisoners.  Base what was done  to Leland Yee .  I am not sure about and  think that  Yee  is the only one.   I have eventually wait until new President will appoint the  new US Attorney General  and new US Attorney in Northern District of California . .

      1. Jerry Waszczuk


        This is  very complicated and interesting story and I could write the book about but I am not a  writer.  Yee was framed.  He would safe  be safe  if  Arnold Schwarzenegger would be in power longer  or different republican governor or even  different democrat instead of Jerry Brown .  Because of Yee’s political  activities  , UC President Yudof and UC Chancellor Vanderhoef were facing jail time  if found  guilty  in the Keyzer case which was publicized on DV. But this was only  was only  one reason for his downfall but not  the not the main reason he had to be taken out . It was done by Napolitano and Melinda  Haag  Aa you know they  both went after Katehi at same time when Yee was ready to report himself to US Marshal in  March 2016.   This why Neapolitan is in UC . She would go back to Washington if Clinton would won the election ..  The FBI operation to take out Yee began in May 2011 , exactly at same time as UC Gestapo went after me . I found partially what and why it  happened almost three years after the  termination of employment.  It was a little too late.  If I would knew in 2011 or even in 2013 than what I know today than  Yee never would be incarcerated . Long story which began  somewhere  in 1996 and still going .   Evil of corruption .  You may read some my  comment on Davis Enterprise  under the  Katehi’s most recent interview with Davis Enterprise .
        What’s next for Katehi? Opportunities for women, memoir   http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/ucd/whats-next-for-katehi-opportunities-for-women-memoir/

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