A special prosecutor will join the Ramsey County Attorney's Office in the Philando Castile case.
Don Lewis, a prominent Minneapolis attorney and former federal prosecutor, has been appointed as the special prosecutor, who will bring "fresh eyes and independent perspective" to the case, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said at a news conference Friday.
Lewis will be an "integral member" of the attorney's office team, Choi says. Together, they will work to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury, charge the officer or decline charges. (Choi said last month he was still deciding on whether he or a grand jury would consider charges – that decision still hasn't been made.)
Whatever the outcome of the case ends up being, Lewis said Friday he hopes his work with the attorney's office will earn the public's trust, and "especially the trust and confidence of those who today expect the least and fear the worst from our criminal justice system."
Activists demanded a special prosecutor
The appointment comes after pressure from community members, including the ACLU-Minnesota and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (MNNOC), who demanded a special prosecutor be appointed to weigh possible charges against St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in Castile's July 6 death.
Doing so, they argued, would ensure justice is served.
But Choi said Friday turning the entire case over to a special prosecutor "would fail to provide the legitimacy this case requires and deserves," so he compromised by hiring a special prosecutor that will "provide independent perspective, bolstered by the authority of this office."
"I have not come to this decision lightly, nor do I expect that this decision will satisfy all of the concerns raised by some members of our community," Choi said.
Teresa Nelson, the legal director for the ACLU in Minnesota, told BringMeTheNews Choi's decision "falls short" of what they requested, which was a truly independent investigation by someone who was appointed by the Attorney General. Nelson added that they hope communities of color will still see justice in this case.
However, Judge Glenda Hatchett, who is representing the Castile family, tells BringMeTheNews hiring a special prosecutor "is a step in the right direction and we trust that justice will be served."
Investigation is ongoing
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is still investigating the shooting, and when it is complete the agency will present its findings to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office.
Choi, who has called for a "prompt and thorough" investigation, hasn't been given "any specific timelines" on the BCA's investigation, noting the Jamar Clark case took more than four months to investigate.
Castile's death – the aftermath of which was broadcast live on Facebook by his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds – has prompted weeks of protests outside the Governor's Residence on Summit Avenue in St. Paul, as well as marches that shutdown Twin Cities interstates, and a demonstration outside St. Anthony City Hall. Dozens of people have been arrested in connection to the mostly peaceful protests.
More on Lewis
Lewis, a longtime African American lawyer, is from Ramsey County and has roots in the Rondo community – a historically black neighborhood in St. Paul, Choi said.
He co-founded Nilan Johnson Lewis PA in 1996, and returned to working there full time in 2013, after serving as the dean of Hamline University School of Law for five years, according to the law firm's website.
Lewis began his legal career with the U.S. Department of Justice, handling desegregation cases involving white and black state colleges in the southern United States. He returned to the Twin Cities in 1982, to be an assistant U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.
He has a history of dealing with high-profile cases, the law firm says, including the 1999 academic fraud investigation involving the University of Minnesota's men's basketball team and he led an internal investigation into the Lilydale Regional Park landslide that killed two kids.