A racially mixed Ramsey County jury acquitted St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in the shooting death of Philando Casatile last month. Officer Yanez had been charged with second degree manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. John wrote about the case when the jury returned here. John observed that “Castile’s death was tragic, but there was one outrageous aspect of the case: Governor Mark Dayton’s instant reaction to the shooting.”
Following the verdict Governor Dayton has continued in the same vein. He now calls for a new $12 million police training fund to be named after Castile. The Star Tribune reports that local law enforcement is none too thrilled with Dayton’s proposal. One officer whom I know and trust asks us to post his comments without identifying him by name or department. I believe he speaks for many Minnesota law enforcement officers who feel compelled to mute their voice in the face of Dayton’s disparagement, both implicit and explicit. Their voice nevertheless deserves to be heard. He writes:
In a sane world the forced effort to make Philando Castile the poster child for out of control police officers would have ended when 12 citizens unanimously voted not guilty at the conclusion of the trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez. However, we do not appear to be living in a sane world and the #narrative continues unabated.
Just days after the latest assassination of a police officer in New York, Minnesota’s governor Mark Dayton continued to fuel the war on cops by reiterating his prior statement that Castile would not have been shot if he were white. Further, he proposed a police training fund be named in honor of Castile, I suppose as a permanent reminder of Dayton’s petulant divisiveness. He probably means it another way.
I understand the call and sometimes see the need for changes in the way cops are trained. This is not one of those times. Before calling for another type of training (in addition to what we need working as law enforcement officers, social workers, marriage counselors, psychiatrists and so on) I think it’s important to revisit the criticism of Officer Yanez in light of the facts of the case as the jury likely saw them.
1. The Stop. I’ve seen some say that Yanez should have conducted a “felony stop” on Castile. I would like to see those people even describe what a felony stop is before taking their recommendation on when one should or should not be done. I also believe that many of the same people would rail against the increase in felony stops because their use would be found to be disproportionate or excessive or some other such sin. Leaving that aside, I should note that felony stops are relatively rare and are usually used when stopping a stolen vehicle, a vehicle known to have just been used in a violent crime, or when the registered owner of the vehicle has a felony warrant and there is reason to believe the owner is driving the car.
A felony stop is conducted rarely because it is much more intrusive than a regular stop. A felony stop involves calling the driver and passengers of a vehicle out at gunpoint and searching, handcuffing and placing them in the back of a squad car. While this is safer, its use is limited in the interest of civil liberties and in my opinion was not called for in this case despite Yanez’s perception that suspicion that Castile looked like a suspect from an armed robbery nearby a few days earlier. If not for the #narrative I don’t believe liberals or conservatives would be calling for increased use of felony stops.
2. Castile had a concealed carry or CCW permit. This is true but irrelevant. It is actually a crime for a CCW permit holder to carry while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Castile was high on marijuana at the time of the encounter. A CCW holder should have known better than to reach for his gun, or anything else, without being instructed by the officer, as Officer Yanez believed Castile to be doing. The number of times Castile had been stopped was widely reported though generally as part of the #narrative that he was stopped excessively due to his race. Based on the number of encounters, Castile should have been known what not to do during a traffic stop. Despite his experience he apparently reached for and was in the process of pulling his gun out of his pocket when he was shot. It seems to me that his CCW permit is an aggravating rather than a mitigating factor in this case.
3. The number of shots was excessive. Yet Jamar Clark was only shot once and there were still riots and protests.
So Castile was illegally carrying a gun and despite being told “Don’t reach for it! Don’t pull it out! Don’t pull it out!” appeared to be pulling his gun out in the middle of an otherwise routine traffic stop. What about Philando Castile’s behavior that night warrants a police training fund be named in his honor? What about that encounter makes the despicable Mark Dayton endorse the BLM anti-cop narrative?
My point here is not so much to relitigate the Yanez trial as it is to address the larger issues raised by these questions. Being a police officer is not a suicide pact. I hate the saying that cops just want to go home at the end of the night. We do. Of course we do. But we are also willing to lay our lives down in order to protect the innocent. I don’t know a cop who wouldn’t jump in front of a train to save a baby. But our willingness to sacrifice our lives to serve the community does not mean we are willing to be murdered. Putting on a uniform does not mean I forfeit my existence in the name of warring for social justice.
Governor Dayton’s disgusting grandstanding delegitimizes policing and will only lead to more problems, shootings and dead cops. Furthering the #narrative will only lead to more resentment and division. It’s the same game leftists have been playing for 50 years.