A lawyer for the Latino cop who killed a black motorist in Minnesota this week says the officer reacted to the man’s gun, not his race, the Associated Press reports. The lawyer, Thomas Kelly, insists that St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed school-cafeteria worker Philando Castile during a routine traffic stop on Wednesday in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, fired as a result of “the presence of that gun and the display of that gun” rather than any other factor.
“[Officer Yanez] is deeply saddened for the family and loved ones of Philando Castile. Tragically, the use of force became necessary in reacting to the actions of Mr. Castile. This heartbreaking incident had nothing to do with race. It had to do with the presence of a gun,” Kelly said in a statement, also indicating that the officer has had no disciplinary action taken against him or his career.
The shooting of 32-year-old Castile, the aftermath of which was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend, came soon after the release of a video of another black man’s death at the hands of police in Louisiana; together, the two events have sparked nationwide outrage and protests. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, says that after their car had been pulled over, Castile had simply informed the officer that he was carrying a legal firearm and reached to provide his driver’s license and registration as he had been asked, when the officer started shooting, ultimately firing four times. In that same video, a police officer is heard saying, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.”
Yanez’s lawyer wouldn’t detail Yanez’s account of the events that led up to the shooting, citing the ongoing investigation. WCCO adds that Minnesota authorities have obtained several videos of the incident for review, including one shot from the squad car. Neither Yanez nor his partner were wearing body cameras. Both are now on administrative leave.
On Thursday night, a gunman ambushed police officers who had been protecting a downtown Dallas protest responding to the deaths of Castile and Alton Sterling, the black man recently killed by police in Louisiana. That ambush resulted in the deaths of five officers. The gunman, a black Army veteran, told police he had conducted the attack as revenge for the deaths of Castile and Sterling.
On Friday night, members of Castile’s family condemned the Dallas attack, and his mother, Valerie Castile, said that, “My son would not have approved of the shootings, because he believed that all lives matter.”
Castile had apparently been stopped by police on Wednesday for having a broken taillight, and the Associated Press reports that Castile had been previously pulled over at least 52 times in the Minneapolis area over the last 14 years, often receiving citations for minor driving offenses. Half of the 86 violations he received were ultimately dismissed. As the AP notes, it is impossible to know how many of the times Castile was pulled over were the result of racial profiling, but a 2001 study conducted in the area at the request of the Minnesota State Legislature indicated that, as is often the case throughout the country, racial and ethnic bias likely played a role in police officers’ traffic-stop policies and practices, as well as the citizen reports that sometimes lead to those stops. On Thursday, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton said that he believed Castile would still be alive if he and the other passengers in the car had been white.