US officer charged in shooting death of Philando Castile

CHICAGO: The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot 32-year-old African American Philando Castile, in an incident caught in video footage that shocked the nation, was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez was also charged with two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon, for endangering the safety of Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter. Both were in the car when the officer shot Castile during a traffic stop.

The July 6 shooting was partially captured on video recorded by Reynolds and broadcast on Facebook Live, sparking protests across the United States. In it Castile can be seen bleeding to death in the driver's seat.

His last words, revealed by authorities Wednesday, were "I wasn't reaching for it" — referring to the gun he had informed the officer that he legally carried with a permit.

"Based upon our thorough and exhaustive review of the facts of this case, it is my conclusion that the use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified, and that sufficient facts exist to prove this to be true," said John Choi, the Ramsey County Attorney whose office is prosecuting the case.

Castile's shooting shocked the nation, coming just a day after a graphic video of another police shooting of an African-American man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Both incidents further exposed the tensions between US police and African Americans, triggering "Black Lives Matter" protests throughout the country.

'A loud message'

Castile's family said at a news conference Wednesday that it was supportive of the prosecution, including the decision to charge the officer not with murder, but with a lesser manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

"The worst thing that can happen is that the officer is overcharged, and he is found not to be responsible for those charges," said Glenda Hatchett, a television personality and former judge who is the family's lawyer.

"We are intending for this case to send a loud message that things must change in this country," said Hatchett, adding that the family was also planning a civil lawsuit.

"We all hope and pray that the right thing is done," Castile's mother Valerie said.

US prosecutors have found it difficult to make criminal charges stick in police shooting cases. All six Baltimore officers charged over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray due to spinal cord injuries were eventually cleared.

In the first official accounting of Castile's death, authorities on Wednesday laid out the chain of events based largely on police dash-cam video and audio.

The footage was not publicly released, because it was evidence in the ongoing case, Choi said.

'Unreasonable fear'

The police officer had pulled over the couple, because they "looked like the people that were involved in a robbery" at a nearby convenience store, and because of a non-working brake light, according to the criminal court filing.

After Yanez approached and asked for identification, Castile "calmly, and in a non-threatening manner informed officer Yanez: Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me," Choi recounted.

The officer asked Castile not to pull out the handgun, and the man affirmed that he was not doing so, Choi said.

Moments later, authorities said Yanez shot Castile seven times, while he was still buckled into his seat. Reynolds has said that Castile had been trying to pull out his wallet, not his gun.

The officer later told investigators that Castile moved in a way that concealed his right hand, causing him to fear for his safety and that of the other officer at the traffic stop, authorities said.

"No reasonable officer knowing, seeing or hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances," Choi said. "Unreasonable fear cannot justify the use of deadly force."

Yanez is expected to turn himself in on Friday, when he will make his first appearance in criminal court. — AFP