St. Paul, MN — Officer Jeronimo Yanez is a free man tonight, after being found not guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile. However, the jury of public opinion is still in deliberations with many in support of his actions, and still others, including law enforcement officers, who think he simply murdered an innocent man in front of his family.
Fueling the critical public’s anger and rage a police officer would seemingly assassinate a compliant Castile, are late-breaking details as to what Yanez was thinking just prior to taking Castile’s life. According to transcripts of investigators interviewing Yanez, the young officer, upon approaching Castile’s stopped vehicle, said he smelled the distinct smell of burnt marijuana.
He noted the child in the backseat, the female in the passenger seat (Castile’s fiancé), and said he’d been around cannabis enough to know how it smelled both before being burned, and after being consumed.
As soon as I get up to the car I’m hit with a odor of burning marijuana. And I know it’s already been smoked and I’ve been around, through my training, I’ve been around burnt marijuana and as a police officer I’ve been around burnt marijuana and fresh marijuana. So I know the distinct smells between both. I smelled burnt marijuana. And then I see a female child in the back. And then I see a front seat passenger, adult female in the front seat.
Yanez said, “As soon as I get up to the car, I’m hit with an odor of burning marijuana.” But the officer chose not to mention marijuana to Castile because, as he put it, “I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner.”
The officer implied Castile was trying to hide his marijuana use by not speaking directly to the officer where he could smell his breath. He also stated the driver didn’t make eye contact.
The smell of marijuana led his mind to run wild, it seems. Yanez said he wondered if Castile was carrying a firearm for protection against drug dealers who might attempt to “rip him” off.
Being that… the inside of the vehicle smelled like marijuana, I didn’t know if he was keeping it on him for protection, for, from a, a drug dealer or anything like that, or any other people trying to rip him. Rip him meaning steal from him.
In his own words, Yanez said, “a million things were going through my mind” when Castile was reaching for something. As Castile’s fiancé relayed in a live Facebook broadcast, she believed her Castile to have been reaching for his license, as the officer requested.
“I thought I was going to die,” he told investigators. “And I was scared because I didn’t know what he was gonna do,” the officer stated.
Castile’s statement, coupled with the newly released dash-cam footage, serves to illustrate just how many thoughts were going through his mind at the time of Castile’s death by cop. He was preoccupied with an armed robbery which had recently occurred. He smelled marijuana and admitted he was fearful and scared.
Marijuana became an often discussed aspect of Yanez’ trial. According to the Cannabist, “During the trial, Yanez’s defense lawyers claimed that Castile didn’t respond to the officer’s requests because he was high.” According to The New York Times, Earl Gray, Officer Yanez’s lawyer told jurors: “He did not follow orders. He was stoned.”
Yanez’ own words seem to indicate he’d already arrived at the conclusion not only was Castile high, but he scared the officer and felt afraid of what might happen to him.
While Yanez indicated he knew two other occupants were in the car, he wasn’t obviously in fear of his bullets killing either one of them. He opened fire, in a downward direction, to prevent his bullets from striking the little girl.
He said he thought Castile was reaching for a gun because his hand was in a C-shape as if he was going to grip a gun. No gun was ever lifted and pointed at the officer, as his fiance’s Facebook video demonstrated, yet Yanez opened fire in a hail of bullets. In fact, Castile’s gun was at the bottom of his pocket, clearly indicating that he was not trying to get it out.
Was Yanez prejudiced towards marijuana users? Did Castile’s announcement he had a gun lead the officer to be jittery or was he simply nervous because he was looking for an armed robbery suspect? These questions and more remain unanswered. Maybe if Yanez would have been smoking some weed he wouldn’t have hastily shot and killed Castile.