Last week’s acquittal of former Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez on all charges related to the fatal shooting of Philando Castile leaves a lot of unsettling questions. The greatest of these is not concerning marijuana and the fact that Yanez told state attorneys more than once that the smell of smoked marijuana in the car contributed to his need to use deadly force against Castile. But that isn’t the least important issue either.
In an interview last July, only one day after Castile’s shooting, Yanez spoke to attorneys from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. According to transcripts of the conversation, the smell of cannabis in the car made a major impact on how serious of a threat the officer considered Castile to be.
The officer told the attorneys that the first thing he noticed on approaching Castile’s car was “a odor of burning marijuana.” When Castile told the officer calmly that he had a firearm in the car, the officer the made the assumption that Castile was probably a drug dealer moving a substantial amount of weed. “… being that the… inside of the vehicle smelled like marijuana, um, I didn’t know if he was keeping [the gun] on him for protection, for, from a, a drug dealer or anything like that or any other people trying to rip him,” Yanez said.
According to Yanez’s statement, the fact that Castile was a marijuana smoker not only escalated the situation, but also figured prominently into his thoughts as Yanez pulled the trigger. The officer said that knowing Castile would let his young daughter ride with him in a car where cannabis had recently been smoked made him think that Castile might also be capable of murdering a police officer who had stopped him for a traffic violation.
“I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls was screaming.”
So, in the heat of the moment, just before he decided to take the life of Castile, Officer Yanez says what was on his mind was the second hand weed smoke that Castile’s daughter might have inhaled. And then he “let off the rounds.”
Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm last Friday. He was terminated from the St. Anthony, Minnesota police department on the same day, shortly after the judge’s ruling.