St. Anthony officer charged in shooting death of Philando Castile

Attorney General John Choi came to the decision without a grand jury.

Robert Lin chants during a march for Philando Castile while walking down Selby Avenue in St. Paul on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar organized a gathering at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School after Ramsey County attorney John Choi announced charges against St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez for the death of Philando Castile.

Chelsea Gortmaker

Robert Lin chants during a march for Philando Castile while walking down Selby Avenue in St. Paul on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016. The Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar organized a gathering at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School after Ramsey County attorney John Choi announced charges against St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez for the death of Philando Castile.

David Clarey and Rilyn Eischens

The officer who killed Philando Castile in July during a traffic stop was charged with three felony counts Wednesday morning — a decision some called historic and unexpected.

A vigil in memory of Castile drew at least 100 people Wednesday night in a march to the St. Paul Western District Police station.

The crowd first gathered in the parking lot of J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where Castile worked, in St. Paul. Speakers from Black Lives Matter St. Paul, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and other groups mourned Castile and denounced police violence.

“This is a gathering to celebrate justice [for Castile] but also to realize that there is more progress to be made,” said Kenneth Eban, who attended the demonstration.

The rally came after Ramsey County District Attorney John Choi chose to a bring second-degree manslaughter charge and two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm against St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez for Castile’s death.

Like others across the nation, Castile’s death sparked protests and calls for police to be held accountable for their actions.

Choi said he reached the decision without a grand jury.

Choi said Castile acted lawfully, alerted Yanez that he was carrying a firearm and didn’t pose a threat to the officers or passengers in the vehicle.

“I have given Officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these … circumstances to be unaccounted for,” Choi said.

Demonstrators held photos of Catile and signs reading “No Justice, No Peace” and “Rest in Power.”

Castile, 32, was shot and killed during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights on July 6. The incident’s aftermath was recorded and live-streamed by Castile’s girlfriend.

Glenda Hatchett, the Castile family’s attorney for the case, said the family was encouraged by the decision.

“Let me just say very emphatically that we see this as a historic decision, historic time,” she said. “We also see it as an important signal to this nation.”

Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said the family was pleased with the decision. She called for peace throughout the process.

“We are here in solidarity, my family and I, to support that decision,” she said. “We all hope and pray the right thing is done in this issue.”

Eban said the fact that Yanez was charged when many other officers in similar circumstances were not is a good sign.

Demonstrator Terrance Nelson said at the vigil that the charges are a small step in the right direction and that he hopes it will set a precedent for future cases.

Still, several at the rally thought more severe charges were necessary.

Anja Witek, 30, said the officer “needs to be charged with murder” and called the actual charges a “small victory.”

“The police are given too much leeway with the law that they should uphold” said Kenneth Garnier, who attended the demonstration.

Though Hatchett said she would have liked more severe charges for the officer, she understands Choi’s reasoning.

“We understand why the officer was charged at the level he was charged,” she said. “If I had my druthers, the penalty would be certainly more severe, but we have to be realistic. This is what the law says and this is the charge they brought.”

The worst-case scenario, Hatchett said, would have been no charges at all.

“We’re happy that there was charges, but it’s not the end of the battle,” said Sam Sanchez, an organizer with the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar.

Several members at the rally called for systematic changes to occur with police practices.

“Castile’s life was taken due to an implicit bias and stigma against African American people,” said demonstrator Aneesha Kelly. “Everyone has implicit bias and if people are aware of their biases, that’s when progress will be made.”

Yanez’ first court appearance is Friday.