November 18, 2016 / 10:44 PM / 3 years ago

Minnesota officer charged in fatal shooting of black motorist appears in court

ST. PAUL, Minn. (Reuters) - A Minnesota police officer charged in the shooting death of a black motorist that received national attention after part of the incident was broadcast on the internet made his first court appearance on Friday, but did not enter a plea.

Nakia Wilson (R), first cousin of Philando Castile, and Margaret Brooks, a friend of Wilson's, talk with reporters after Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez made his first court appearance after being charged in connection with the shooting death of black motorist Philando Castile last July, at Ramsay County District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota November 18, 2016. REUTERS/Craig Lassig

Jeronimo Yanez, 28, a police officer in St. Anthony, Minnesota, did not enter a plea at the brief hearing and waived the reading of charges, the most serious of which is one count of second-degree manslaughter.

Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile, 32, in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb, during a traffic stop in July.

Ramsey County Judge Mark Ireland released Yanez on his own recognizance and ordered him to appear back in court for a Dec. 19 hearing, at which he is expected to enter a plea.

The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association has said it expects Yanez to plead not guilty.

On Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced the charges against Yanez, saying his use of deadly force was not justified.

The traffic stop turned chaotic after Castile calmly told Yanez he was legally carrying a firearm and that he was not reaching for it, Choi said. Yanez claimed he thought Castile was reaching for the weapon before he fired seven shots into Castile, Choi said.

Starting about 40 seconds after the shooting, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was sitting in the vehicle’s passenger seat, streamed images of a bloody Castile on Facebook Live, and the recording went viral on social media.

Following the hearing Yanez was whisked from the courtroom, leaving from a back door and avoiding media. Yanez’s attorney, Tom Kelly, declined to comment as he left the courthouse.

Philando Castile’s cousin, Nakia Wilson, said afterward that she was disappointed with his release.

“They’ve put trust in him to come back,” she said. “I’m saddened ... I’m still feeling a lot of emotions.”

“Just looking him in the face - the man who shot my cousin,” Wilson said.

Yanez is also charged with two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm that endangered the safety of Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter, who was in the car at the time of the shooting.

Before Yanez, no officer had been charged in more than 150 police-involved deaths in Minnesota since 2000, according to Minnesota House Rep. Raymond Dehn.

If found guilty of the manslaughter charge, Yanez could be sentenced to nearly five years in prison.

Writing by Rory Carroll; editing by Dan Whitcomb, G Crosee

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