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Use-of-force expert: Cop who fatally shot Philando Castile justified in shooting

A use-of-force expert said his tests found Philando Castile could have pulled the weapon in a fraction of a second


St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez stands outside the Ramsey County Courthouse while waiting for a ride Tuesday, May 30, 2017, in St. Paul, Minn.

David Joles/Star Tribune via AP

By Steve Karnowski
Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — A use-of-force expert testified Friday that a Minnesota police officer was justified in the fatal shooting of a black motorist moments after the man told him he was carrying a gun, and said his tests found the motorist could have pulled the weapon in a fraction of a second.

Emanuel Kapelsohn was the second such expert in two days called by attorneys for Officer Jeronimo Yanez. He’s charged with manslaughter for shooting Philando Castile during a traffic stop last July that drew widespread attention because Castile’s girlfriend streamed the aftermath on Facebook.

Prosecutors say Yanez’s actions were unreasonable. Castile, a 32-year-old cafeteria worker, had a permit for the weapon and prosecutors have sought to portray him as being cooperative when he volunteered to Yanez early during the stop, “Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.” Yanez’s attorneys say the St. Anthony police officer made a reasonable split-second decision in the presence of a gun and fearing for his life.

Yanez, who is Latino, was expected to take the stand later Friday. The defense’s case is expected to stretch into next week.

A key issue in the trial is what Yanez saw before he fired seven shots into Castile’s car. Squad-car video recorded him telling a supervisor afterward that he didn’t know where Castile’s gun was, but also that he told Castile to take his hand off it. Yanez’s partner testified that Yanez told him later he saw the gun. Witnesses have testified that the gun was in a pocket of Castile’s shorts when paramedics removed him from his vehicle.

Kapelsohn says if Yanez believed he saw a gun, he was justified to shoot.

“He’s trained to do so. He’s justified in doing so. He’d be remiss in not doing so,” Kapelsohn said.

Prosecutors have sought to show Yanez could have taken lesser steps, such as asking to see Castile’s hands or asking where the gun was. After Castile told the officer he had the gun, Yanez told Castile, “OK, don’t reach for it then,” and, “Don’t pull it out” — a response Kapelsohn described as “moderate.”

Kapelsohn, a firearms instructor to police for 37 years, said the situation escalated when Castile reached for something. His girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was a passenger in the car, has said he was reaching for his wallet or seat belt.

On squad-car video, Castile can be heard saying, “I’m not pulling it out,” as Yanez opened fire. Castile’s last words were, “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

Kapelsohn said tests he conducted showed it would take less than three-tenths of a second to draw a gun like Castile’s from a holster in the pocket of shorts like Castile was wearing. Kapelsohn said that’s faster than an officer could react.

Prosecutor Jeff Paulsen, on cross-examination, asserted that “the ultimate question” in the case was whether Yanez saw a gun. Kapelsohn disagreed, saying the central question to him was whether Yanez “reasonably believed that Castile was pulling out a firearm.”

Paulsen also displayed autopsy photos that showed a graze wound to Castile’s trigger finger. Paulsen noted the absence of a bullet hole in Castile’s shorts or bullet damage to his gun — evidence, the prosecutor said, that showed he wasn’t reaching for the gun when shot.

Kapelsohn said it was possible Castile didn’t have his hand in or near his pocket at that point.