yanez castile

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop relating in early July, is back on duty with the support of his chief.

The police officer who killed a motorist in a shooting whose bloody aftermath was livestreamed on Facebook was defended by his chief Wednesday as a level-headed member of the force with “a real sound ability when it comes to communicating and relating to people.”

In an interview with The Associated Press, St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth sketched a portrait at odds with the image of the officer screaming expletives while pointing his gun at the dying man in the video.

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot 32-year-old Philando Castile during a traffic stop in nearby Falcon Heights on July 6. Castile’s girlfriend streamed the aftermath live on Facebook and said Castile was shot several times while reaching for his ID after telling the officer he had a gun permit and was armed.

I’ve got three thoughts on this story.

The first is that St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth is doing the right thing by standing behind his officer, while refusing to comment on the case. Officers everywhere need to know that their leaders trust and support them, and the people need to know that the chief has faith that they’ve done the very best they can to put qualified and prepared officers on the street to protect the community.

The second is that the editorializing from this unnamed, unqualified, editorializing Associated Press press dirtbag reporter is repellant.  Officers who care are of course going to be affected if they discharge their weapons and shoot a citizen, especially as they’re confronting the unexpected reality of watching someone they just shot dying in front of them without being able to do the first thing about it. If the Associated Press and other media outlets would actually bother to send reporters to learn about firearms training they would be more competent at their jobs and have some empathy for everyone involved… but that would mean giving law enforcement officers fair treatment, and we’ve learned in recent years that the media is committed full-bore to narrative building, not balanced or insightful coverage.

The third is that Mangseth’s comments on Yanez’s history and record seem to reinforce my theory that the shooting of Philando Castile wasn’t an incident that can rationally be argued as an intentionally criminal act by Yanez. It certainly wasn’t “murder” as some radicals have claimed.

As the investigation completes, we’ll hear the prosecutor’s decision on whether the homicide was criminal or not, but I as I mentioned in an article yesterday, I think this death is the result of a horrible miscommunication, one so bad that I’ve actually been warned about it during shooting classes.

Castile had been pulled over for matching the description of an armed robbery suspect. Castile had no criminal record, and was a concealed carry permit holder who was armed at the time of the stop. When the officer approached Castile, there was allegedly a deadly miscommunication.

When the officer approached Castile’s door, Castile tried to inform the officer that he was a concealed carry permit holder, but did so in a manner that was so incredibly wrong that his exact words and motions have been used in firearms training classes as an example of what not to do when an officer approaches to make contact for as long as I can remember.

Castile reportedly told the approaching officer that “I have a gun” and reached behind his hip. Castile was ostensibly reaching for his wallet, but the officer heard “I’ve got a gun,” saw Castile reaching behind his hip, where guns are frequently carried, and was forced by the totality of circumstances to assume that Castile had a gun and was indeed reaching for it to use against the officer.

Both hardcore criminals with designs on murdering officers and emotionally-disturbed people intending “suicide-by-cop” have said those exact same words and made that same behind-the-hip reach, and the story must end the same way every time. Officers are trained to draw and fire their weapons (or if their sidearm is at a ready position, to raise, aim, and fire) when a suspect appears to be reaching for a weapon. The officer no doubt feels horrible over Mr. Castile’s death, and it will be a burden he will carry with him for the rest of his life. His response, however, was as it had to be.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned in my various shooting classes and personal encounters with law enforcement officers is how they must perceive the world when they have an interaction with citizens, which happens on the order of 55 million times a year in the United States (if my memory serves me correctly). With 14 million concealed carriers, you have to figure there are (conservatively) tens of thousands of officer contacts with lawfully armed citizens every year that go off without a hitch.

One thing I have been told, consistently, but numerous instructors, is not to utter the phrase “I have a gun” and then making a reaching motion. That particular combination is only going to be interpreted one way, and with good reason.

The correct way to alert officers to the fact that you are lawfully carrying a firearm is to keep your hands in plain sight, and say something along the lines of, “Hello, officer. I have a concealed carry permit, and I am presently carrying. My sidearm is located on my [names location on body]. How would you like to proceed?” 

In my personal encounters with officers I’ve typically been the caller and so the interactions have been relatively stress free, and the officers neither requested to see my permit nor wanted to secure my handgun. There response was always something along the line of “well, don’t touch it,” and then we moved on to other business.

Unfortunately, Mr. Castile apparently reacted to Officer Yanez’s approach on an armed robbery suspect stop (Castile was pulled for matching the description of an armed robbery suspect) by apparently making a statement and a motion that was interpreted by the officer as a deadly force threat.