Officer Jeronimo Yanez's trial begins Tuesday, marking what's believed to be the first time a police officer in Minnesota has been prosecuted for shooting a person while on duty.
On July 6, 2016, Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile 74 seconds after he was pulled over, with Castile's girlfriend live streaming the aftermath on Facebook. She was next to him in the car, with her child in the back seat.
Castile, a nutrition services supervisor at a St. Paul school, had a firearm on him and a permit to carry. The officer said he believed Castile was reaching for his gun when he fired. Castile’s last words were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
In the wake of the shooting as protesters gathered outside his residence, Gov. Mark Dayton said he believed that race was a factor in Castile’s death, coming amid a backdrop of racial tensions nationwide between police and the black community.
A few months after Castile's death, Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at the time “no reasonable officer who knew, saw or heard what officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances.”
Yanez has maintained he did everything correctly when he shot Castile, noting he feared for his life. His attorneys tried to get the charges against him dropped, arguing Castile was high on marijuana and didn’t obey the officer’s orders.
However, Ramsey County District Court Judge William Leary III denied the motion, writing Castile’s behavior does not exonerate Yanez “because a victim’s unreasonable conduct is never an absolute defense to a criminal charge.”
The trial begins Tuesday with jury selection, with the trial expected to last three weeks, The Associated Press says.
During the trial, prosecutors must prove Yanez acted with culpable negligence, meaning he was reckless and didn't act reasonably for the situation he was in.
It's rare for an officer to be charged in a civilian's death – this is believed to be the first time a Minnesota officer has been prosecuted for the death of a civilian while they were on duty – and it's even more rare for an officer to be convicted.
Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University, says 81 officers nationally have been charged with murder or manslaughter since 2005, with a little more than one-third of them being convicted, MPR News reports.