I was involved in a lot of media interviews about the trial, so people have been asking me what I thought about the verdict. I will start by saying that I respect the jury. Five days of deliberation shows that they worked hard. I have known the experience of the jury dealing justice that is harsh. So, I understand the anger and the pain of those that are not in agreement with the result. But at the same time, I believe that while imperfect, the jury system is the very best system in the whole world.
This trial was different because it wasn’t a whodunit. Many trials decide, “Did the Defendant do it?” Not this case. Here we all can agree Philando Castile was killed. We also should be able to agree that a simple traffic stop should never result in a death like this.
The issues in this trial: Was it criminal for Officer Yanez to shoot Castile? Was it legal for him to shoot with Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter so close?
I felt the dashcam video was going to be a very big obstacle for the defense to get around. I also agree with what Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said, according to the Washington Post:
…he believes Yanez is a good person who made a mistake. But he maintained that nothing Castile did justified his death.
“The toughest part for me … is that he was so respectful in how he disclosed that he had that firearm,” Choi said. “He said sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me. He went beyond what the law requires. He was compliant. He wasn’t resisting.”
So, on paper there were solid reasons for the State to bring this unique case, therefore evidence for the jury to convict on.
But at the trial there were serious questions about why the Facebook video existed at all. Which may be a generational divide as jurors range from never using Facebook to understanding almost everything gets uploaded today. Older jurors seem to look at Facebook postings as being far more powerful than they really should be.
There also is a big cultural difference in how minorities feel during a traffic stop compared to whites. Diamond Reynolds had her testimony closely questioned on these very issues.
The police officers also were a mixed bag as they were called as part of the State’s case. They weren’t the same as they would be in most criminal cases. They rarely waver from the facts proving the case against the defendant. Yanez’s partner testified that while he never drew his own gun and was surprised when Yanez drew his gun and fired, he had a different vantage point and trusted Yanez’ decision and believes he “followed protocol.”
So, there was testimony that the jury could latch onto and find that the State did not meet their burden.
The post-trial reactions have been mild as compared to the predictions and what has happened in other parts of the country. Which may be a tribute to Minnesotans, but doesn’t mean that real hurt isn’t present.
It is very hard to convict a police officer or to find them civilly liable for a shooting. As a society, we give them a lot of freedom to protect us. But it is troubling when questions rise as to if that freedom was overused and abused.
The real test will be the reaction next time someone is shot. I write this with the sincere hope there won’t be a next time, but I’m cynical enough to know that there will be. I pray that those affected and involved will learn from this experience. That those who feel they were let down by the system will do what they can to make things better. That every effort be made to not have this happen again.
A founding partner with Bradshaw & Bryant, Mike Bryant has always fought to find justice for his clients—knowing that legal troubles, both personal injury and criminal, can be devastating for a family. Voted a Top 40 Personal Injury "Super Lawyer" multiple years, Mr. Bryant has also been voted one of the Top 100 Minnesota "Super Lawyers" four times.