US officer acquitted over shooting of black motorist

CHICAGO (AFP) – A Minnesota police officer was acquitted Friday over the fatal shooting of 32-year-old African American Philando Castile, whose dying moments were captured on Facebook video in a case that shocked the nation.

Jeronimo Yanez, 29, was found not guilty on three charges: second-degree manslaughter, and two felony counts of intentional discharge of a dangerous weapon for endangering the safety of Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her four-year-old daughter.

Both were in the car when the officer shot Castile during a traffic stop on July 6 last year.

After the verdict, Castile’s family reacted with anger outside the courthouse in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and several groups planned demonstrations in protest.

“I’m mad as hell right now. Yes, I am,” his mother Valerie told a gathering of reporters. “The system continues to fail black people.”

Glenda Hatchett, a lawyer who represented Valerie Castile, said her son had suffered a “tragic, tragic needless death.”

“This time we had to get it right,” she said. “This time we had a young man who had no criminal record,” she said. “This time there should have been in our opinion a very very different outcome.”

The aftermath of Castile’s shooting was captured on video recorded by Reynolds and broadcast on Facebook Live. In it, Castile can be seen bleeding to death in the driver’s seat.

The footage sparked protests across the United States and further exposed tensions between US police and African Americans.

Community activists expressed anger and disappointment.

“It was a clear-cut case,” Jaylani Hussein, chief of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said on local TV station KSTP.

“It sends a very harsh message that we still have major race issues in this country.”

– ‘Egregious’ –

Officials appealed for calm, with the mayor of Saint Paul quickly announcing a series of community meetings to discuss the verdict.

“I urge each of us to move forward in a way that is peaceful and respectful of everyone — residents, demonstrators and police officers alike,” Mayor Christopher Coleman said in a statement.

Prosecutors also planned to address the media later in the day.

The jury in the case spent approximately 30 hours deliberating, and asked the judge to re-examine the Facebook video and the video from the police car dashboard camera, along with Yanez’s testimony on the stand.

The dashcam video has not been made public, pending the outcome of the case.

US prosecutors have found it difficult to make criminal charges stick in police shooting cases.

All six Baltimore officers charged over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray due to spinal cord injuries suffered in the back of a police van were eventually cleared.

Sherrilyn Ifill, who heads the legal defense fund at the African-American civil rights group NAACP, said the acquittal, “highlights how difficult it is to prosecute an officer for killing a person.”

“This incident seemed so egregious,” she said in a statement, “That we hoped that this time… justice might be served.”

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