ST. ANTHONY, Minn. (KMSP) - Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Friday he's decided to integrate a special prosecutor into his team for evaluation of the Philando Castile shooting case. Choi said the decision to add Minneapolis attorney Don Lewis to his team is a compromise after hearing multiple requests from the community and the Castile family to appoint a special prosecutor.
Castile, 32, was shot and killed by St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez during a July 6 traffic stop on Larpentuer Avenue in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, captured the aftermath of the shooting in a Facebook Live video. In the video stream, Reynolds says they were pulled over for a broken tail light. She says Castile let Officer Yanez know he had a permit to carry a firearm, and that he was reaching for his ID and wallet when he was shot.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension confirmed the case is still in their hands and the investigation is ongoing. Choi said he and Lewis will review the case together, and that Lewis will be “substantially involved” in the future decision of whether to not to present the case to a grand jury.
Two days after the shooting, Choi said he would decide later if he'll use a grand jury, as is tradition, or make charging decision himself in this case. Choi said if a grand jury decides charges are warranted against Officer Yanez, “we will prosecute this case to fullest extent of the law.”
Since 2009, the Ramsey County grand jury has returned 15 "no bills" in officer-involved shootings that resulted in death.
In Minnesota, state statutes require use of grand juries in cases of first-degree premeditated homicide and several other very serious crimes for which the potential sentence may be life in prison. The use of the grand jury in all other cases is up to the discretion of each individual county attorney.
In Minnesota, a grand jury consists of 23 randomly selected, diverse adults who are chosen to decide in private whether or not, in a particular case, there exists probable cause to indict, or charge, an individual for a crime. In essence, the grand jury is a fact finder. It meets in private with evidence presented to it through witnesses questioned both by the prosecutor and then independently by grand jury members. The grand jury also reviews documents and videos. Rules of law are presented to the grand jury by the prosecutor who provides a summary of what legal elements must be present to indict a person for a crime.
Timeline of Philando Castile shooting
JULY 7, 10 AM - Governor: 'Justice will be served in Minnesota'
JULY 7, 9:50 PM - Police officers identified in fatal shooting of Philando Castile
JULY 8, 10:30 AM - Prosecutor considering grand jury in Philando Castile shooting
JULY 9, 8 PM - Protest shuts down Interstate 94 in St. Paul
JULY 26-27 - 70 protesters arrested at Governor's Residence
JULY 27 - Falcon Heights hosts listening session
July 15 public letter from Ramsey County Attorney John Choi
Thank you for coming to our office to express your concerns over the Philando Castile case. Unlike many of the elected officials in our community, as County Attorney, I have a unique role in that I am part of the legal process. That means I am very limited in what I can say about a case under active investigation because it could compromise the integrity of the legal process. As someone who is concerned about this case, I know that’s the last thing you want to have happen.
Much of what I am able to talk about at this point, I shared in a press conference on July 8, 2016. The recording of that press conference and the Q & A that followed is available on our website. I encourage you to watch the video in its entirety. A written copy of my remarks is available there, as well. I have spoken to the Superintendent of the BCA, the agency handling the investigation, and he assured me they are making this investigation a top priority. I have asked for a prompt and thorough investigation. Both of these goals are equally important to ensuring the integrity of this case. I know many people in our community feel a sense of urgency about this situation and want it resolved as soon as possible, but putting an artificial timeline on the investigation will not do it justice.
As I stated on July 8, I will make a determination at a later time about how best to proceed with a charging decision, either by taking it to the grand jury to allow our community to make a decision, or by handling it in our office. I need some additional time to think through my thoughts on this process question. I am taking this thoughtful approach because it will enable me to make a fully informed decision. There are benefits to both approaches, which I outlined during an appearance on Almanac (July 8), which I also encourage you to watch. I will also take the same approach as it pertains to the use of a “special prosecutor,” which has been requested by some members of the public.
In order to bring criminal charges against a police officer for using deadly force in the line of duty, Minnesota law requires the State to be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force was not justified. If the grand jury determines charges are warranted in this case or this office makes that decision, I assure you that we will prosecute this case to the fullest extent of the law.
In times like these, I understand it is incredibly difficult to be patient. But above all else, I know you and other members of our community share my primary goal, which is to achieve justice. In order to do so, we must ensure this process is carried out with the utmost integrity. It is incumbent upon us, as investigators and prosecutors, to not jump to conclusions, but to view our work as a sacred trust with our community. Our system of democracy depends on our ability to diligently follow the facts and remain faithful to the pursuit of justice. Thank you for your understanding and for being invested and involved in our community.
John J. Choi