The Minnesota judge who oversaw the trial against the police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile sent a somewhat consoling letter to the jurors who collectively decided to acquit the agent, according to an ABC News report published Wednesday.
After several days of public protest repudiating the “not guilty” ruling and a few days after the official police dash cam footage was released, Ramsey County District Judge William Leary III chose to relay a message to the participators of the civic, legal process.
“The criticism of the jury’s decision of which I am aware has focused primarily on a reaction to the squad-cam video and on consideration of issues you as jurors were never asked to address,” Leary wrote in the letter dated June 23, according to ABC, which notes that the letter was first reported by the Minnesota Star Tribune, but was itself able to obtain the piece of communication. “You were simply asked to determine, beyond a reasonable doubt, whether a crime had been committed,” the judge continued.
Communicating with jurors so far after the original verdict is delivered is fairly atypical for judges and not normal protocol. While the case is certainly not the first instance of a police officer’s conduct being investigated by his or her peers, the Castile case was highly publicized for many reasons — including, among others, the fact that Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, videotaped the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which seemed to help support the notion that excessive use of force was relatively overt.
Jeronimo Yanez, who pled not guilty in February, stopped Castile in July 2016 for purportedly having a broken tail light, and also allegedly matching the description of a wanted suspect. Castile told Yanez that he had a gun, prompting the officer to slowly put his hand closer to his own firearm.
“Don’t reach for it then,” Yanez told Castile. “Don’t pull it out.”
Castile responded by saying that he was not reaching for his gun, and Reynolds said the same. Yanez then fired seven shots into the car, while his own partner jumped away.
“I wasn’t reaching,” Castile reportedly uttered after being shot, as Yanez shouted “fuck” multiple times.
The moment Yanez exited his patrol vehicle to the point where he peppered Castile with an onslaught of bullets took less than a minute, according to the footage’s time log.
The jurors witnessed the footage during the trial, but still felt that it wasn’t enough to convict Yanez of murder. (RELATED: Philando Castile Shooting Video Disappeared From Facebook, Social Media Company Asserts No Wrongdoing)
The judge doesn’t say whether he agrees with the jury’s decision, but asserts that their proper roles were distorted by the public and media outlets, ABC reports.
“I write to reassure you that the criticism of the verdict some have expressed is likely due to a failure to understand what you were asked to do and that you faithfully fulfilled the difficult task you were asked to undertake,” Leary wrote, adding at one point that he appreciates their service. “You were never asked to decide whether racism continues to exist, whether certain members of our community are disproportionately affected by police tactics, or whether police training is ineffective.”
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