Minn. officer's attorney in Philando Castile case says DA overstepped

Defense attorneys called the DA's comments about the Philando Castile case "beyond the complaint and unnecessary and prejudicial"


By Chao Xiong and Brandon Stahl
Star Tribune 

ST. PAUL, Minn. — An attorney for officer Jeronimo Yanez accused Ramsey County Attorney John Choi of overstepping when he laid out the case for charging Yanez in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.

Defense attorney Thomas Kelly criticized comments Choi made about the case at a news conference Wednesday, saying that they were "beyond the complaint and unnecessary and prejudicial." Kelly took issue with Choi's statement that "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 Choi announces that Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez will face three charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a July 6 traffic stop on Nov. 16, 2016 at a press conference in St. Paul, Minn.(Photo/Minneapolis Star Tribune/David Joles)
Ramsey County attorney John Choi announces that Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez will face three charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a July 6 traffic stop on Nov. 16, 2016 at a press conference in St. Paul, Minn.(Photo/Minneapolis Star Tribune/David Joles)

The defense will argue that Yanez's actions were justified, Kelly said in an interview Friday, "but I'm going to reserve the discussion of the facts for the courtroom."

Yanez, 28, a St. Anthony police officer, made his first appearance in Ramsey County District Court on Friday afternoon on three felony counts -- second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

A second court date for Dec. 19 was set for Yanez at the hearing, where his attorneys waived a reading of the charges.

Two of Yanez's attorneys, Kelly and Earl Gray, and a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy escorted Yanez, dressed in a gray suit, into the courtroom through a side door.

Asked by Judge Mark Ireland if he was waiving his right to a second hearing within 28 days, Yanez replied, "That's correct, your honor," he said.

About 10 sheriff's deputies stood watch over the proceeding at the Ramsey County Law Enforcement Center as others were posted in the hallway outside, an unusually high level of security.

Yanez was charged via summons Wednesday. He turned himself in to the Ramsey County jail Thursday, where he was booked and released on his own recognizance.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Richard Dusterhoft told the court Friday that there would be no change to Yanez's release status.

In an interview before the hearing, Kelly said that Yanez is under "tremendous pressure" and is disappointed with how the proceedings have unfolded in Ramsey County.

"It's difficult when your lifelong goal is to be a police officer and you're not able to work at your chosen profession," Kelly said.

Yanez will not ask for a speedy trial, he added.

Nakia Wilson, Castile's first cousin, said she attended Yanez's hearing because she wanted to look him in the face. Seeing Yanez made her body shake, she said.

Tyrone Terrill, president of the African-American Leadership Council, said he attended Yanez's hearing to support Castile and the fight for justice in officer-involved shootings.

"It's a long battle yet," Terrill said.

St. Anthony City Manager Mark Casey said Yanez's union, not the city, is paying for his defense.

Yanez's defense team -- Kelly, Gray and Paul Engh -- are well versed in handling high-profile cases.

Kelly represented former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho, who was arrested in 2007 in an investigation into complaints of sexual encounters in men's bathrooms at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Engh is representing former Starkey Hearing Technologies executive Lawrence Miller, one of five executives charged with stealing more than $20 million from Starkey.

Gray successfully defended former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper when he was accused in 2005 of misdemeanor charges for alleged behavior on a boat on Lake Minnetonka that featured lap dances and sex toys.

Engh has said he's concerned about the amount of media attention his client's case has received and its influence on Yanez's right to a fair trial. But, he said, it's too early to say how the legal team will address that issue.

Clarence Castile, Philando Castile's uncle, said Friday that Castile's mother and other relatives are emotionally drained but inspired by the support.

"For the most part," Clarence Castile said, "people are just excited there was a positive decision."

According to the criminal complaint filed against Yanez: The officer pulled over Castile, 32, on Larpenteur Avenue near Fry Street in Falcon Heights because he matched the description of a suspect in a gas station robbery due to his "wide-set nose." The officer said Castile also had a nonworking brake light.

Castile complied with the stop and informed Yanez that he had a gun in his possession, for which he had a valid permit. Soon afterward, Yanez shot at Castile seven times as Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter watched.

A Facebook Live video recorded by Reynolds showed him bleeding to death in the car as Yanez stood nearby with his gun drawn. The video turned Falcon Heights into the latest flash point in the national debate over police killings of black men.


McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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