ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) - St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez took the stand Friday afternoon in his own defense. The defense team rested after his testimony. Closing arguments are set for Monday.
Yanez is on trial for manslaughter for the July 6, 2016 shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. The shooting garnered national attention when Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed the aftermath of the fatal shooting on Facebook Live.
Jeronimo Yanez was at times fiesty, at times calm and at times emotional on the stand. Toward the end of direct questioning, he became choked up on the stand.
"I did not want to shoot Mr. Castile at all,” said Yanez, wiping his eyes. “Those were not my intentions."
Yanez testified he saw Castile in the car and made eye contact with him, giving him a "deer in the headlights" look, a term used in law enforcement that could indicate suspicious activity. He thought Castile may fit the profile for a robbery suspect and pulled over the vehicle for a broken tail light.
Yanez told the courtroom Castile immediately interrupted his instructions during the traffic stop and reached for the gun. He said Castile had total disregard for his commands.
"He continued to pull the firearm out of his pocket," said Yanez.
He told the courtroom he could see the slide and hammer.
"I was scared to death I thought I was going to die," he said. "I had no other choice. I was forced to engage Mr. Castile."
On cross-examination, Yanez testified the presence of a firearm redirected his mindset, saying "It changes the dynamic. It puts the officer on high alert."
The prosecution pressed Yanez on what he actually saw inside the vehicle. They cited his statement to the BCA where he said, “I thought it was a gun."
Later Yanez said, “I didn't know where the gun was until I did."
The prosecution also pressed Yanez on what he didn't say to Castile. Yanez admitted he didn't tell Castile not to move to keep his hands off the weapon.
Yanez says he wasn't given enough time to investigate further and was certain in what he saw inside the car.
"It was a gun," he said.
A use of force expert on the stand Friday for the defense said the shooting was reasonable response by Officer Yanez. The expert used a gun identical to Castile’s and wore a pair of shorts identical to the ones Castile wore. He timed the drawing of the weapon from the shorts, and average 28/100ths of a second to fire. The expert said the average reaction time for an officer about a half-second. He said even if Castile was reaching for his wallet, Yanez would not have known he wasn't going for the gun and had to react.
The prosecution rested its case first thing Thursday morning, and the defense moved very quickly, calling about 10 character and expert witnesses to deliver favorable testimony.
The defense called its own use of force expert in former police officer Joe Dutton said, who he thought Yanez used "justifiable deadly force.”
Dutton also believes the officer saw Philando Castile's gun because Officer Yanez told BCA investigators he saw Castile's hand in a C-shaped grip on his right side. During cross-examination, prosecutors argued the same hand gesture could also be used to unbuckle a seatbelt.
St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth also testified Thursday, saying he's never watched the dashcam video of the deadly traffic stop shown in court this week. The chief also testified that Officer Yanez had no disciplinary issues.
The defense is expected to call a few more witnesses Friday morning before Officer Yanez takes the stand. The case could come down to whether the jury finds his testimony credible.
FUTURE OF POLICE IN FALCON HEIGHTS: Falcon Heights prepares to sever ties with St. Anthony Police
NOTE: The defense team asked the judge for an immediate acquittal of the charges against Yanez after the state rested -- a fairly routine move. The request was denied.
Philando Castile shooting: The trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez
DAY 3: Use of force experts testify