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.
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?
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!
Did you see any interaction between the families? Was it tense in the courtroom throughout the trial?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
In your opinion, was there any one piece of evidence that likely determined the jury's final decision?
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.
In the dashcam, Yanez says something to the effect of "I didn't see the gun" how is that not proof?
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.
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?
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.
What was the jury like... anything you can share about how they were feeling during deliberations?
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.
How would you rate the performance of the attorneys involved?
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.
I know newscasters and reporters are supposed to be unbiased, but how did you stand on the case?
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.
Was there anything that could have been done differently to avoid the tragic outcome?
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.
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?
We do have some departments in Minnesota now using body cameras but St. Anthony is not among them.
How do you feel about Officer Yanez being fired despite being acquitted of the charges?
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.
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?
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.
If you had the opportunity to interview Yanez, what would you ask him?
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
What are some memorable articles that you have covered throughout your career as a reporter?
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.
Ha, ha! I love Rosey! But I haven't been close enough to him to detect any particular aroma.
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?
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.
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?)
(Edit: Evidence Tampering seems more appropriate than Obstruction).
I am not aware of that.
Do you think if the jurors saw the video of Diamond Renyold's daughter it would've affected the outcome?
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.
How is it working with Amelia Santaniello? Be honest, please.
She's wonderful. What you see on TV is what she's like in person. Best in town!
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?
Keep your eye on our website (www.wcco.com/wccojobs) where there are job openings posted. There are currently 4 open positions.