June 12, 2017 / 10:03 AM / 2 months ago

Minnesota cop's fatal shooting of black motorist not justified: prosecutor

Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez, charged in connection with the shooting death of a black motorist Philando Castile last July, is shown in this booking photo taken November 18, 2016 in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S. Courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff's Office/Handout via REUTERS

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Reuters) - The Minnesota police officer charged with fatally shooting a black motorist during a traffic stop last year, the aftermath of which was streamed on social media by the driver's girlfriend, was not justified in firing his gun, prosecutors said on Monday.

St. Anthony Police Department officer Jeronimo Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter after he fatally shot Philando Castile, 32, last July in an incident that drew national attention and led to weeks of protests in St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"Being nervous is not a reason to shoot and kill somebody," federal prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said during his closing remarks in the Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul. Paulsen is assisting the Ramsey County attorney's office on the case.

Two of the seven shots fired by Yanez missed Castile and almost hit the girlfriend in the passenger seat, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter in the back seat, Paulsen said. Castile was courteous, non-threatening and kept his hands in view while Yanez spoke to him, Paulsen said.

The jury will begin deliberations on Monday afternoon.

The shooting in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights, like similar incidents across the United States, fueled public debate about appropriate use of force by law enforcement against unarmed African-Americans and other racial or ethnic minorities.

Yanez's attorney, Earl Gray, said in closing statements that his client is an honest police officer who "did what he had to do."

"Officer Yanez's actions were justified," Gray said. "The state has failed miserably to present its case."

According to Gray, Castile did not follow Yanez's orders because he was high on marijuana. During the trial, Reynolds said she and Castile had used marijuana, and a subsequent autopsy found traces of the drug in his blood.

Yanez, who pleaded not guilty, testified on Friday that Castile disregarded the officer's commands and began reaching for a firearm he had disclosed he had in his possession. Yanez also said he was scared for his life.

The police video of the traffic stop and Reynolds' Facebook Live post were played in the courtroom last week. Reynolds said she showed the video because she did not trust police.

Yanez said he was justified in stopping Castile's car because he resembled a suspect in a convenience store robbery, court documents said. Castile's vehicle also had a broken brake light.

After Castile was stopped, Yanez asked him to present his driver's license and insurance card. Castile disclosed he was carrying a handgun. A gun permit was later found in his wallet.

Reporting by Todd Melby, writing by Ben Klayman; editing by Grant McCool, G Crosse

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