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JournalistI’m Bill Hudson, a reporter for WCCO-TV in Minneapolis. I was in the courtroom when the Officer Yanez was found not guilty of manslaughter after he shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop. AMA.

Jun 23rd 2017 by BillHudson • 33 Questions • 9853 Points

The shooting of Philando Castille gained national attention when the aftermath was streamed live on Facebook – promoting protests in the Twin Cities and across the county. After days of deliberations, the jury found the officer involved in the shooting not guilty on all counts. I’ve been a reporter with WCCO-TV since 1989, and covered this trial since it started. Ask me all of your questions about the trial, testimonies and verdict reactions. For background, here’s WCCO’s full story on the trial: http://cbsloc.al/2s3kz2f as well as a timeline from the shooting to the trial: http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2017/06/14/timeline-philando-castile-jeronimo-yanez/

Update - Thank you everyone for your very thoughtful questions. Very engaging discussion and one I am sure will continue for a long time. I have to be honest and tell you this was among the most difficult trials I have covered in my career. Nobody feels good about the situation! Thank you all.

Proof: https://i.redd.it/e2uzg9ur5v4z.jpg

Q:

Hey Bill, your old friend Max Huber here. You said the courtroom was silent after viewing the dashcam footage. How chilling was that and what broke the silence? Or what was your take on Yanez's reaction to seeing the footage and hearing it over again?

A:

I just recall going home that night feeling the state had a "slam dunk." Boy, was I wrong... but that had a huge impact on everyone in the courtroom that day. It would be eventually played over and over multiple times by the state. But in the end as powerful as it was it could not convince jurors because it doesn't show what Yanez was seeing. Jurors have said that as well, the state did not prove that Yanez did not see that gun coming out of Castile's pocket. Thanks Max!


Q:

Did you see any interaction between the families? Was it tense in the courtroom throughout the trial?

A:

Absolutely no interaction between the families and respective supporters. It was very civil both in the courtroom and out. The tension was most felt on opening day when the squad video was first shown and the actual verdict. When Yanez took the stand I did notice more of his family and fellow officers in the courtroom. In fact, there was so much family and priority seating that nobody from the general public was allowed into the relatively small courtroom.


Q:

I understand the state didn't introduce Yanez's interview with the BCA as evidence. Do you know why they wouldn't have included that?

A:

That's a great question and one many are asking. It became a point of contention at the closing of the trial as the state again requested Judge Leary to allow it. The state apparently was holding on to that in hopes they could get Yanez to impeach himself after he had taken the stand and told jurors he saw a gun. The state could have introduced that BCA interview during its phase of the trial but chose not to. By the time the defense had begun its case, the judge ruled it too late. This appears a bit of strategy on the state's part that appears to have backfired. The state was allowed to use portions of the Yanez interview but not enough to reveal what he told BCA interviewer.


Q:

Something that I feel hasn't been discussed is the actual laws in place regarding police officers and how/when their use of deadly force is allowed. Can you speak to the bar that the prosecution had to clear in the case and how is it different for policemen versus civilians?

A:

The requirement is for the jurors to find if he acted "reasonably." What would another reasonable officer do facing the same situation. If the officer feels harm coming to another or himself he or she can use deadly source to stop that threat.


Q:

Dear Lord that seems nebulous and impossible to prove beyond reasonable doubt.

A:

Remember, jurors were instructed to follow the law regarding "culpable negligence" in order to find guilty on the manslaughter. The requirement of that is what another reasonable officer would do to respond to that specific circumstance. When jurors could not determine that Yanez did NOT see a firearm in Castile's right hand, they could not according to the law, find him guilty. That's really what this case came down to. On the stand he described what the gun looked like and the shape that Castile's hand was in when reaching in his pocket.


Q:

Alright, that's more what I was wondering about. So it came down to needing to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Yanez did not see a firearm, which the prosecution failed miserably on.

A:

That's correct. The state tried but failed to show that Yanez's earliest statements to responding officers were unclear about what he indeed did see. He kept referring to Castile's gun as "it." But to jurors, I don't think that had the impact that prosecutors had hoped. Also, at one point that evening he told his supervisor, "I didn't know where the gun was, he wouldn't tell me." Defense later interpreted that to mean that at the moment Castile informs him he is carrying a gun. In reality, Castile never had a chance to tell him where the gun was, that's what is so unfortunate.


Q:

Isn't there some procedure for collecting evidence after someone has been shot and even killed? Wouldn't he have called back up and an ambulance and had the car searched, at which point, shouldn't there be some documentation of where the gun actually was? For example, the team located the gun in the glove box or the team found the gun in the middle console. I mean, that kind of documentation would have cleared the whole case up a lot. Seems strange that we never know where the gun ever was.

A:

We do know where the gun was. EMT's and officers giving CPR to Castile testified how it fell out of his right front shorts pocket and onto the pavement as he was turned to his right side to be placed onto a backboard. That part is clear. It was always in his pocket. What's at issue is whether or not Yanez actually saw Castile's hand on the gun after he was told, "don't pull it out." Prosecutors say Yanez's statements of what he saw changed.


Q:

The supreme Court has specifically included the word 'reasonable' officer. If another reasonable would have done it, then it is likely justifed. An example how this could hurt an officers defense would be if say the shooting cop was brand new, but a reasonable officer would have not used deadly force. The officers lack of experience can be used against him if a reasonable officer would not have done it

A:

Yanez had been an officer for just over 4 years. He had been through use of force training both during his skills courses to become a cop and in ongoing annual training put on by his department. What I found interesting (and likely persuasive to jurors) is that other officers who testified said the use of force was justified. The prosecution's use of force expert, Jeff Noble said Yanez's commands were not clear. He should have alerted his partner immediately of the presence of a gun in the car and then demanded to see both hands on the wheel. Defense argued that there simply wasn't time. This all went down in a matter of 7 seconds from the time Castile informs him of the firearm and the shots being fired. I question that?


Q:

In your opinion, was there any one piece of evidence that likely determined the jury's final decision?

A:

I think it was the defense expert witness, Emanuel Kapelsohn who was the use of force witness. Highly respected and educated, he was persuasive in his re-enactments and time measurements of how long it would have taken for Castile to have pulled and shot, .28 seconds versus the reaction time of Yanez, .50 of a second. He also described reenacting the gun in the exact shorts pocket and how the back top of the receiver would have shown since it was not a deep pocket. So in jurors minds, conceivably Yanez could have seen the gun, despite prosecution contrary opinion to jurors.


Q:

In the dashcam, Yanez says something to the effect of "I didn't see the gun" how is that not proof?

A:

According to the transcript he said to officer Tressa Sunde, "..and I don't know where the gun was, he didn't tell me where the f____ing gun was." Defense convinced jurors Yanez was referencing the moment Castile informs him he has a firearm. Prosecutors tried to convince them it meant he really never saw a gun.


Q:

Hey Bill, the one question I am wondering and everything I've read so far doesn't really share, did the prosecution or the defense ever say where the gun and license were actually located on Philando Castille? Was this ever brought up to the jury or presented?

A:

Yes, for sure. The gun was found in his right front shorts pocket when it fell onto the pavement as he was rolled onto his side to place him on the paramedic's backboard. According to testimony of EMT's and other officers assisting the paramedics, it simply fell onto the ground. What I can't tell you is where his wallet was. I think that could have been made clearer by both sides. The permit to carry was indeed in Castile's wallet.


Q:

That seems like an important detail to leave out. I recall reading that in one interview Yanez stated that Castile was reaching by his right leg, right thigh between the console. The location of the wallet would have been a key detail to determine what Castile was reaching for, and what Yanez could have seen.

A:

That's what I thought as well. Not sure but I think the prosecutor could have spent more time establishing that to clarify for jurors exactly what Castile was reaching for. It certainly raised an eyebrow for me and left me wondering, where the wallet was!


Q:

What was the jury like... anything you can share about how they were feeling during deliberations?

A:

What struck me was their reaction to the playing of the officer Yanez squad video. There was complete silence in the courtroom when it was played for the first time. From the few jurors we actually spoke with the deliberations began split, 6-6 and eventually after 4 days was down to 10-2 in favor of acquittal.


Q:

Have you seen in your past reporting that juries typically have visible reactions to evidence? There isn't really a way to control that, right?

A:

The fact they reacted quite visibly is not at all that unusual. I have seen other jurors react as well, especially to gruesome autopsy photographs and compelling video and audio. I can say however, that the Judge in this case allowed some time to pass, likely deliberately, for emotions to settle and everyone to regain composure.


Q:

The Star Tribune had reported that "Almost immediately, the jury in the trial of officer Jeronimo Yanez was leaning toward a not-guilty verdict an all counts.

The vote was 10-2, and after nearly 30 hours of deliberation, the two holdouts weren’t budging, said juror Dennis Ploussard." http://www.startribune.com/yanez-juror-talks-about-difficult-and-emotional-deliberations/428966163/

I assumed almost immediately meant within a few hours. When you say eventually, was the split of 6-6 to 10-2 a slow turn, or was it a quick turn and then a long deadlock at 10-2

A:

The Star Tribune is plain wrong. It was not 10-2 from the start. It eventually got to that on Thursday, after two other jurors changed to not-guilty. On Friday, after jurors were told they could not see the officer's BCA transcript in the deliberating room, the final 2 holdouts dropped their opinions and sided with the majority.


Q:

How would you rate the performance of the attorneys involved?

A:

Both the state and the defense had incredible legal teams. I've seen Richard Dusterhoff prosecute before (Brian Fitch, who killed officer Scott Patrick) and he is thorough and has great courtroom presence. Also, Clayton Robinson and Jeffrey Paulsen did a superb job. But were some mistakes made in the case? Probably and I'm sure if they could prosecute over again we would see a different case. On the other hand, Earl Gray is among the finest defense lawyers in the area. Helped by Paul Engh and Tom Kelly, each of them took portions of the trial. Kelly's questioning of Yanez was thorough and sensitive. But in the end, jurors responded to the testimony and evidence presented to them and NOT the legal teams as it should and must be.


Q:

I know newscasters and reporters are supposed to be unbiased, but how did you stand on the case?

A:

I like everyone who saw that video of the actual shooting and the dialog that led up to it am dismayed and heartbroken. It is a tough thing to watch and is very disturbing. On the other hand I believe jurors had an extremely difficult job to determine what Yanez did in fact see in Castile's hand. In the end they could not find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he did not see what he described on the witness stand.


Q:

Was there anything that could have been done differently to avoid the tragic outcome?

A:

Yes, I believe that Yanez could have asked Castile after he was informed he had a firearm to the3n put both hands on the steering wheel. Instead he said, okay then don't reach for it, don't pull it out, don't pull it out. On the other hand, Castile apparently according to Yanez testimony kept moving. I firmly believe there were unfortunate mistakes made by both of them which sadly ended in this horrible tragedy. Clearly, jurors can not expect a person to have handled a situation differently, only make a decision on what was said between the two.


Q:

Do you think it's reasonable to think that Yanez was, basically, just freaking out when Castile said he had a firearm and didn't stop moving? Meaning, Yanez obviously should have said, "hands on the wheel" but he couldn't believe Castile was still reaching and was trying to get him to stop quickly, and therefore didn't give the command properly?

A:

You have a great observation. There are many responses Yanez could have used to de-escalate the situation but unfortunately did not. Why didn't he pull his gun first and used it to get compliance. I am not a cop and don't know if that is proper. Why, after being informed of Castile's firearm did he not say, okay, then put both hands on the wheel while holding him at gunpoint? Hindsight is always 20/20 and only leads to regrets. Other officers did testify that they would have handled the situation differently.


Q:

This winter Axon announced they would provide free body cameras to any police department if they would agree to use their storage services. Have you reported on the status of police body cameras, and where does Minnesota stand in regard to that?

A:

We do have some departments in Minnesota now using body cameras but St. Anthony is not among them.


Q:

How do you feel about Officer Yanez being fired despite being acquitted of the charges?

A:

I think it was a mutual decision and one that most expected. Tough to carry on in the community he serves with that history following you. Can't imagine him wanting to return.


Q:

Were you surprised by the verdict? Of all the high profile acquittals of police officers over the last few years, how shocking was this one by comparison?

A:

I was a bit surprised that it did not end in a hung jury. I thought for sure there would be a couple of jurors who could not be convinced he was acting as another "reasonable" officer would have in the same circumstances. But I believe that less than 10%of all cases nationwide of an officer charged with taking a life end with a guilty verdict, so I knew the bar is high for the prosecution to prove.


Q:

I was a bit surprised that it did not end in a hung jury.

What was the demographics of the jury? I see your story said "The 12-member jury included two black people, and the remainder were white." but male, female, age, ... ?

A:

There were 7 men and 5 women, two people of color and a wide array of professions. The jury foreman held an MBA and favored legalization of pot. There was a nurse, gas station manager, contractor, personal care attendant, IT support supervisor, auto detailer, retired special ed teacher and art designer. A mix of ages. But don't assume the 2 holdouts were the 2 jurors of color. In fact, they were both white men.


Q:

If you had the opportunity to interview Yanez, what would you ask him?

A:

I would ask him, "if he could possibly go back in time and redo his response to the stop, what would he have said or done differently?" I know he is wrestling with that very question in his mind a thousand times over.


Q:

Was this statement:

"And I thought if he’s, if he has the, the guts and the audacity to smoke marijuana in front of the five year old girl and risk her lungs and risk her life by giving her secondhand smoke and the front seat passenger doing the same thing then what, what care does he give about me. And, I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girls was screaming."

discussed much in the courtroom?

I mean, how does one maintain any credibility after such an absurd utterance?

A:

Remember, that transcript of the BCA interview was not played in court. While jurors asked to see it during deliberations, rules of court procedure do not allow that. The 28 page transcript has a number of statements in it that I believe the state could have used to impeach Yanez.


Q:

In this case, how quickly was 'justice served'? Is this the average time it takes to hear a trial of this size or was this longer/shorter than normal?

A:

I actually thought it would go a bit longer. The state rested after just three days and called a total of 10 witnesses. The defense used two days including putting Yanez on the stand. I have seen much longer trials indeed. What is more interesting is that it took jurors a full 5 days deliberating to reach the verdict they did.


Q:

What are some memorable articles that you have covered throughout your career as a reporter?

A:

There are so many in my 38 years doing this. I can vividly recall the tragedy of the United flight that crashed in Sioux City, Iowa back in the summer of 1989. Capt. Al Hayes had lost all hydraulics and nearly brought the plane in for an emergency landing but landed just short of the runway and it cartwheeled in a ball of fire. So many perished but many more survived. Miraculously. I was down there for a week and then followed up later with the NTSB hearings on the crash. That will stick with me forever.


Q:

What does Mark Rosen smell like?

A:

Ha, ha! I love Rosey! But I haven't been close enough to him to detect any particular aroma.


Q:

Besides a civil suit from the family, will Yanez face any more legal action? Can the case be retried, or is that only if they find new evidence?

A:

Just the civil suit(s). He could only be retried if the jurors had reached an impasse and the judge would have declared a mistrial.


Q:

Did the St Anthony Police ever get charged with obstruction of justice for their attempts to delete the Castile video off of facebook using Diamond Reynold's confiscated phone?

(Also, do I have the details of that correct?)

Thanks!

(Edit: Evidence Tampering seems more appropriate than Obstruction).

A:

I am not aware of that.


Q:

Do you think if the jurors saw the video of Diamond Renyold's daughter it would've affected the outcome?

A:

It certainly could have but there is no way to know for sure. Why the state did not use that in its case is beyond me. I was certainly moved by the emotion of the two interacting and Reynolds being comforted by the little girl.


Q:

How is it working with Amelia Santaniello? Be honest, please.

A:

She's wonderful. What you see on TV is what she's like in person. Best in town!


Q:

Hi Bill. I walk past WCCO every single day on my way to work. I have been wanting a change of pace for quite some time now and I've been interested in going into media. My issue is I have no clue where to begin on my path. What advice would you give me in regards to becoming a part of the WCCO team?

A:

Keep your eye on our website (www.wcco.com/wccojobs) where there are job openings posted. There are currently 4 open positions.