The Minnesota Court of Appeals has determined a state board that licenses teachers wrongly denied a substitute teaching license to the former police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop in 2016.
As a result of the verdict issued Monday, Jeronimo Yanez's case has been sent back to the board for reconsideration.
According to the decision, the court ruled that the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board's main reason for the denial was based on the belief that Yanez's conduct as a police officer in St. Anthony related to "immoral character or conduct." However, the court ruled the teaching license only could be denied if it related "to professional morals in the occupation of teaching and indicate that an individual is unfit to teach."
Yanez and his attorney argued that the language of "immoral character or conduct" is "unconstitutionally vague," to which the Court of Appeals agreed. However, instead of granting him a teaching license, they instead opted to send it back for the board to address the language and reconsider his application.
In early 2020, Yanez applied for a three-year short-call substitute teaching license. He was working a part-time position teaching Spanish at a parochial school.
One of the questions on the application asked Yanez: "Have you ever been acquitted or found not guilty of a criminal offense involving sexual conduct, homicide, assault or any other criminal offense?" Yanez answered yes, and explained he was "involved in a deadly use of force situation" when he was working on patrol for the city of St. Anthony in 2016. Yanez also provided context that he was criminally charged but ultimately acquitted.
After the board had sent his application to its disciplinary committee for a further investigation, Yanez was asked by the committee for more information on the criminal case. He told them he was "wrongly accused of a crime" while he was a police officer "and was acquitted." He went to say he retired from the career after the trial because "second chances are important in education and life," and that "working as a substitute teacher certainly would be for [him]"
Yanez was later notified that the application would be denied because the killing of Castile, a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, was considered "ground for the board to refuse to issue a teaching license."
After Yanez appealed in 2021, St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Gothard testified that the former officer should not be granted a teaching license. In a written report, Gothard said: "Castile was a beloved employee of the Saint Paul Public Schools," and that the pain of his death remained in the community.
"No school-aged child should have a licensed educator who took the life of a Black man in the way [Yanez] did when he killed Castile," Gothard wrote.
The principal of the predominately-white school (75-80%, according to court documents) at which Yanez was teaching Spanish part-time testified in support, saying Yanez received "an excellent performance rating for the school year," according to court records.
The board will now have to focus "exclusively on Yanez's conduct and his fitness to be a teacher, not fitness to be a police officer."
Robert Fowler, Yanez's attorney, provided the following statement to Bring Me The News:
"It was obvious the Licensing Board’s decision was wrong. That’s why my client appealed and he is pleased with the Court’s decision. However, my client’s priority now is moving on to the next chapter in his life in peace and privacy."
The shooting of Castile
Castile was shot five times by Yanez during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, with Yanez later claiming he believed Castile was a possible robbery suspect.
When Castile was pulled over, he advised Yanez he had a firearm in the vehicle, which it was later confirmed he had a permit for.
Yanez then proceeded to interrupt Castile, telling him "Ok, don't reach for it then ... don't pull it out." Castile said he wasn't pulling it out, with his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds – who was also in the car – later saying he was trying to get his wallet to present his license.
Yanez fired his gun seven times, with one of the two bullets missing Castile's four-year-old daughter in the backseat by "16 or 17 inches."
The incident was streamed on Facebook Live by Reynolds and prompted a strong public reaction and extensive media coverage. Multiple protests followed, including one that shut down Interstate 94.
Yanez was charged with one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangered safety.
Shortly after Yanez was acquitted on all charges by a jury, the City of St. Anthony reached a $3 million civil settlement with Castile's family.