The girlfriend of a black motorist fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota testified Tuesday that she began livestreaming the event because she feared for her own life.
Diamond Reynolds cried as squad car video, her Facebook video and still images of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, were shown in court. Her voice broke as she identified Officer Jeronimo Yanez and explained her snap decision to record the encounter moments after Yanez fired into the car.
“Because I know that the people are not protected against the police,” Reynolds said. “I wanted to make sure if I died in front of my daughter that people would know the truth.”
Yanez, 29, who is Latino, is charged with manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Reynolds and her then-4-year-old daughter, who was in the back seat. Castile had informed Yanez that he was carrying a gun, and Yanez’s attorneys have argued he was reacting to the presence of the gun.
Defense attorneys also have argued that Castile was stoned during the stop and it affected his actions. Toxicology reports show Castile had THC – the high-producing component of marijuana – in his system the day of his death.
Attorney Earl Gray asked Reynolds several questions related to her marijuana use and Castile’s, and Reynolds acknowledged she and Castile smoked regularly. She also acknowledged marijuana was in the car at the time Castile was pulled over for a broken taillight in a St. Paul suburb.
Gray cited a Facebook video Reynolds posted showing her and Castile smoking pot in a car with her daughter in the back seat the day before the shooting, but Castile’s use of marijuana the day of the shooting wasn’t addressed in morning testimony.
The officer who assisted Yanez with the July 6 traffic stop, Joseph Kauser, also testified Tuesday. Kauser can be seen in the squad car video standing on the passenger side of the car.
Kauser said that even though Yanez told him that he thought Castile resembled a suspect in a recent armed robbery, there was not enough concern to do a felony traffic stop – in which all occupants are ordered out of the car with their hands up before officers approach. Kauser said at this point, the incident was a “stop and ID.”
Kauser said when he approached the car on its passenger side, he saw a girl in the back, a woman in the front and a male driver. He said from where he was standing, he did not see anything alarming, but noted that his job was to watch the passengers, not the driver. He had just started testifying and did not address the point where shots were fired. He was expected to continue testifying Tuesday afternoon.
In opening statements Monday, the two sides laid out narratives with a key difference: Whether Yanez ever saw Castile’s gun, and whether the officer’s reactions were unreasonable or necessary to protect himself. Castile, an elementary school cafeteria worker, had a permit to carry the weapon.
Prosecutor Rick Dusterhoft said Yanez can be heard on the video in the minutes after the shooting telling a fellow officer he didn’t know where the gun was. That portion of the video wasn’t played Monday.
Dusterhoft said nobody saw the gun until paramedics found it in Castile’s pocket.
Defense attorney Paul Engh countered that Castile ignored his commands and reached for his gun. He said Yanez will testify that he saw Castile’s hand on the grip. He said Yanez then followed his training and made an instant decision to open fire because he believed his life was in danger.
A jury of 15, including three alternates, is hearing the case in Ramsey County District Court. Two of the 15 are black.
Castile’s death was among a string of killings of blacks by police around the U.S., and it renewed concerns about how officers interact with minorities. Castile’s family claimed he was profiled because of his race. Minnesota Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton also injected his viewpoint, saying police likely wouldn’t have fired if Castile had been white.
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