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Crime

US cop charged with manslaughter of black man Philando Castile during traffic stop

The Minnesota police officer who fatally shot 32-year-old African-American Philando Castile has been charged with second-degree manslaughter. The shooting was streamed by Castile's girlfriend on Facebook live.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced on Wednesday that police officer Jeronimo Yanez has been prosecuted for the manslaughter of Philando Castile.

"Based upon our thorough and exhaustive review of the facts of this case, it is my conclusion that the use of deadly force by Officer Yanez was not justified, and that sufficient facts exist to prove this to be true," Choi said.

The shooting on July 6 shocked the US after Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, broadcast a video of the incident on Facebook Live, sparking protests across the country.

The 10-minute video shows the conversation between Castile and Yanez shortly before the officer opened fire.

Shots caught on video

According to prosecutors, Yanez asked Castile to produce his driver's license and proof of insurance. Castile first provided him with his insurance card. Castile then, calmly, and in a non-threatening manner, informed Yanez: "Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me."

Placing his right hand on the holster of his own, holstered gun, Yanez interrupted Castile and calmly replied: "Okay, don't reach for it, then." Castile tried to respond but was interrupted by Yanez, who said: "Don't pull it out."

Castile responded: "I'm not pulling it out." This was reiterated by his girlfriend.

Facebook live video

Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds recorded the incident on July 6

Moments later, Yanez screamed: "Don't pull it out!" The officer pulled his own gun and fired seven shots into the vehicle.

In the video footage, Reynolds is heard telling Yanez: "He was just reaching for his wallet."

"I told him not to reach for it!" the officer screams, his handgun still aimed at Castile. "I told him to keep his hand open!"

"You told him to get his ID, sir, and his license," the woman replies calmly.

'Unreasonable fear'

According to the criminal court filing, Yanez had pulled over the couple, because they "looked like the people that were involved in a robbery" at a nearby convenience store, and because of a non-working brake light.

The officer later told investigators that Castile moved in a way that concealed his right hand, causing him to fear for his safety and that of the other officer at the traffic stop.

USA Schießerei in Falcon Heights

Roadside where Philando Castile was shot

Choi said on Wednesday, however, that "no reasonable officer knowing, seeing or hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would have used deadly force under these circumstances."

"Unreasonable fear cannot justify the use of deadly force," the attorney added.

The officer was also charged with two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon, for endangering the safety of Castile's girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.

'Loud message'

Castile's family welcomed the prosecution, including the decision to charge the officer not with murder, but with a lesser manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

"The worst thing that can happen is that the officer is overcharged, and he is found not to be responsible for those charges," said Glenda Hatchett, a television personality and former judge who is the family's lawyer.

"We are intending for this case to send a loud message that things must change in this country," Hatchett said, adding that the family was also planning to file a civil lawsuit.

"We all hope and pray that the right thing is done," Castile's mother Valerie said. 

Yanez is expected to turn himself in on Friday, when he will make his first appearance in criminal court.

ksb/bw (AFP, AP)