Castile’s ‘Audacity to Smoke Marijuana’ Got Him Killed

Photo by Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons

Officer Jeronimo Yanez in Minnesota was acquitted of all charges related to his point-blank shooting of motorist Philando Castile, a young black man whose execution was streamed live by his girlfriend sitting beside him while her young daughter was in the back seat.

Now, after the trial, the police dashcam footage and the initial investigators’ interviews with Castile and his two police union lawyers have been released, revealing the shocking details that Yanez initially feared for his life—not because Castile was a self-identified lawfully-permitted concealed-carry gun owner—but because Yanez could smell marijuana coming from Castile’s car.

“As I get up to the car I’m hit with an odor of burning marijuana,” Yanez told Special Agents Doug Henning and Christopher Olsen of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. “And I know it’s already been smoked, and I’ve been around, uh, through my training, I’ve been around burnt marijuana and, uh, as a police officer, I’ve been around burnt marijuana and, uh, fresh marijuana. I smelled burnt marijuana. And then, I see a female child in the back. And then I see a front seat passenger, adult female, uh, in the front seat.”

Castile matched the description of a strong-arm robbery suspect: black guy.

At this point in the stop, Yanez had pulled over Castile’s car for having a burned-out tail light. However, Yanez was already antsy prior to the stop, telling investigators that “we had a strong-armed robbery last week, uh, which involved two African American males” who had robbed a store clerk at gunpoint.

“Um, so I was sitting at an intersection, and I see a white vehicle,” Yanez explained. “I can’t remember what kind of vehicle it was. Um but I see two occupants. What I believed was two occupants inside the car. And I couldn’t make out the passenger. But I knew the passenger had a hat on. And I couldn’t make out if it was a guy or girl, I just knew that they were both African American, and the driver, uh, appeared to me that he appeared to match the, uh, physical description of the one of our suspects from the strong-arm robbery, gunpoint.”

So, by the time Yanez has approached the car and smelled marijuana, he’s determined that two black people in a car, one of whom he can’t tell is male or female, could be the violent duo who robbed a clerk at gunpoint.

How is it that Castile “appeared to match the physical description” of a suspect?

“Um it was a (sigh) I can’t remember the height, weight, but I remember that it was, the male had dreadlocks around shoulder length,” Yanez vaguely remembered. “And, um, it wasn’t specified if it was corn rows or dreadlocks or straight hair. Um, and then just kind of distinct facial features with like, a kind of like a wide set nose, and uh, I saw that in the driver of the vehicle.”

Yanez was on the lookout for two black males, one of whom was of some height and some weight and had a wide nose and long hair that was styled or not.

From this description, it could’ve been diminutive comedian Katt Williams or basketball player Kawhi Leonard.

Yanez was so nervous about the stop that he called for backup.

“And this is based on information because this guy fit the description of an individual that had, had been armed and committed a robbery?… Typically, under normal circumstances, you conduct traffic stops on your own?” one of the special agents asked Yanez.

“Correct,” replied Yanez.

Only stone cold murderous thugs smoke marijuana around kids.

With his backup in place, that’s when Yanez approached the car and smelled the burnt marijuana. The rest of this story has been told, of how Castile politely told Yanez, “Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me,” how Yanez thought Castile was going for his gun and how Yanez then fired seven bullets into Castile’s body at point-blank range.

“Uh, but uh, as that was happening as he was pulling at, out his hand, I thought, I was gonna die,” Yanez told the special agents. “And I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five-year-old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me.”

Never mind the reefer madness Yanez exhibits by believing secondhand cannabis smoke is deadly, even though firsthand cannabis smoke is not.

In Yanez’s mind, black men who own guns and smoke pot are all stone cold thugs who commit strong-armed robberies and tell cops they are carrying a gun before shooting them, I guess.

Which is it? Don’t move or show identification? You can’t do both.

For Castile, it was simply three strikes—black, marijuana, gun—and you’re out.

But defenders of Yanez (and police, generally) will tell you that Castile would be alive today if he had just followed orders.

But which orders?

“He kept his, hands in view, and then I, uh, I believe I asked for his license and insurance. Then I received the insurance and then… I can’t remember if I asked for his ID or not, but I know I asked for his ID or his driver’s license,” Yanez explained. “And then he goes, ‘I have a gun.’ And as I’m telling him, or as he’s telling me that, he’s reaching down between his right leg, his right thigh area, and the center console. And he’s reaching down, and I believe I’m telling him something along the lines of don’t reach for it, don’t do it. Referring to the, uh, the firearm.”

Reaching down for his gun? Or for his driver’s license? How does Castile comply?

If he remains still, he’s disobeying the order to get his license. If he gets his license, he’s disobeying the order not to reach for “it.” Castile’s girlfriend testified that he was trying to unbuckle his seat belt, so he could get his wallet to produce his identification.

How can you tell a cop is lying? He’s testifying in court.

In the video above, Yanez is recorded on microphone speaking to another cop (at about 8:10).

First, Yanez says, “[Castile] was sitting in the car, seat belted. I told him, can I see your license. And then, he told me he had a firearm. I told him not to reach for it, and (sigh) when he went down to grab, I told him not to reach for it (clears throat) and then he kept it right there, and I told him to take his hands off of it, and then he (sigh) he had his, his grip a lot wider than a wallet.”

So, Yanez saw Castile’s gun? Well, no.

As he continued speaking to the other cop, he says, “And I don’t know where the gun was, he didn’t tell me where the fucking gun was, and then it was just getting hinky, he gave, he was just staring ahead, and then I was getting fucking nervous, and then I told him, I know I fucking told him to get his fucking hand off his gun.”

So, Yanez didn’t actually see Castile’s gun, but it was clearly well within his reach to potentially shoot at Yanez? Well, no. A paramedic on the scene told investigators he saw an officer “put his hand quite a ways down” Castile’s pocket to remove a gun.

You’d think if the jury heard all this evidence, the verdict might have been different.

We’ll never know, because the jury never heard this evidence. The prosecution never brought it up in the beginning of the case, and when they tried to introduce the transcript during Yanez’s cross-examination, the judge would not allow it.

What the jury did hear was the testimony of Officer Yanez, who on the stand said, “I was able to see the firearm in Mr. Castile’s hand, and that’s when I engaged him.”

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