WEED FEED / John Ross Ferrara / Monday, June 26, 2017 @ 8:45 a.m.

Weed Feed: Cop Who Used Smell of Pot to Justify Killing Philando Castile Acquitted on All Charges

Dashcam and Facebook Live footage of Castile’s final moments. | CNN 

There are many rational responses to the smell of weed: hunger, nostalgia, even pinching your nose.

Former police officer Jeronimo Yanez’s amazingly irrational response was to shoot a man to death during a routine traffic stop.

On July 6 of last year, Yanez pulled over 32-year-old Philando Castile outside Minnesota’s Twin Cities for a broken taillight.

The incident, captured on newly-released dashcam footage and broadcast live to Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, shows a simple traffic stop that quickly escalated into a horrifying scene.

The dashcam footage, which was not released until after the ensuing trial that ended earlier this month, shows Castile explaining to the officer he was legally in possession of a firearm. Yanez then aggressively demands Castile stop reaching for his gun. Castile pleads that he is not reaching for a gun, and within moments, the officer fires seven rounds into the driver-side window, killing the black motorist.

Reynold’s Facebook video also reveals the gruesome aftermath of her boyfriend’s death, and shows her explaining he was reaching for his wallet, as one is inclined to do during a traffic stop.

The Facebook video made national headlines, and the Ramsey County District Attorney’s Office moved forward on charging officer Yanez with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm.

Almost a year later, Yanez was acquitted of all charges, and some bizarre case details are now public.

The New York Daily News reports that in an interview recoreded a day after the 2016 shooting, which was released last week, Yanez told the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that the smell of burning marijuana coming from inside Castile’s car made him to fear for his life.

“I thought I was gonna die,” Yanez says in the transcript. “I thought if he has 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 care does he give about me.”

The marijuana found in the cafeteria worker’s system during an autopsy was a key argument by Yanez’s defenseAccording to a report by the Guardian, Yanez’s attorney Earl Gray harped on the issue during closing statements, even arguing that Castile disregarded the officer’s demand not to reach for his gun because he was high on weed.

Prosecutors meanwhile, argued against the intoxicating levels of THC in Castile’s system, and cited various amounts of evidence which would suggest that Castile did not have a hand on the gun during the time of his death. Including: a bullet wound to Castile’s trigger finger, and no bullet damage to his right-short pocket, where first responders testified that the gun fell from as he was loaded onto a medical backboard.

Although the jury did not find Yanez guilty, Minnesota’s Star-Tribune reports that the City of St. Anthony announced Yanez was no longer an employee of the police department on the same day of his acquittal.


The Weed Feed is a weekly column written by John Ross Ferrara.

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