A police officer who fatally shot a black motorist last year in suburban Saint Paul, Minnesota, has pleaded not guilty.
Officer Jeronimo Yanez of the St. Anthony Police Department entered his plea Monday in response to three felony charges, including second-degree manslaughter, that stem from the July 2016 traffic-stop shooting of Philando Castile. The aftermath of that shooting was live-streamed on social media, catapulting the case to nationwide infamy.
A tentative trial date has been set for May 30.
Yanez, 28, has been free since he was charged in November. He is currently on leave from the St. Anthony police, where he has worked for four years.
Lawyers for Yanez unsuccessfully attempted to have the case thrown out, arguing that Castile was liable in his own death due to allegedly using marijuana before the traffic stop and disobeying police orders. The latter claim conflicts with an eyewitness account from Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who live-streamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting from the passenger’s seat with a bleeding Castile next to her.
Ramsey County District Court Judge William Leary III denied the defense’s request to dismiss the case earlier this month. Leary was himself a replacement for Judge Edward Wilson, whose removal from the case the defense requested in December.
Under state law, the prosecution and the defense are each allowed to make one request for a judge to be removed without having to state a reason.
“We only get one removal but we felt [based on our] research and my personal experience... that it was important to remove [Wilson]... for our client to get a fair trial,” Earl Gray, one of Yanez’s attorneys, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in December.
Wilson is one of just four black judges among the 29 justices in Ramsey County District Court.
Racial bias has emerged as a significant possible factor in Castile’s death.
Castile, a lunchroom supervisor, had no felony record. Nevertheless, he’d been cited by police while driving at least 31 times prior to his fatal traffic stop.
Black residents have said St. Anthony police engage in racial profiling of black drivers in the predominantly white suburb.
Police scanner audio of Castile’s traffic stop indicates that he was pulled over because an officer ― who is not identified in the audio, but is believed to be Yanez ― thought Castile matched the description of a robbery suspect based on “the wide-set nose.”
After Yanez took Castile’s identification and insurance information, Castile, who was licensed for concealed carry, informed the officer that he had a firearm.
According to police documents, Yanez told Castile not to take the gun out, and Castile told him he was only reaching for his wallet. Yanez then shot Castile several times while Reynolds sat in the passenger seat and her young daughter sat in the back.
Reynolds switched on the streaming app Facebook Live and narrated the aftermath.
“He was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm,” Reynolds said in the video. “He shot his arm off.”