Feds to assess St. Anthony police in wake of Castile shooting

A makeshift memorial for Philando Castile
A makeshift memorial sits in October at the spot along Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights, Minn., where Philando Castile was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Tom Baker for MPR News

Updated 3:20 p.m. | Posted 1:52 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Justice said Thursday that it's launched an "independent and comprehensive assessment" of the St. Anthony Police Department.

The city will be the 16th nationally to enter into a collaborative reform process with the department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, which works to help police departments around the country advance community policing.

The St. Anthony department in October asked to join the effort, which focuses on identifying specific issues within a police department.

The announcement comes in the wake of the police shooting death of Philando Castile, 32, who was killed during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights, which contracts with St. Anthony for police services.

Justice Department officials on Thursday, however, said their review isn't focused on the Castile case or any specific incident.

St. Anthony police service area
The St. Anthony Police Department covers the city of St. Anthony Village, and has contracts to cover the cities of Falcon Heights and Lauderdale.
William Lager | MPR News graphic

While the review will identify any disparities and problems faced by communities of color, "this is not an investigation," said Ronald Davis, director of the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

"We're not investigating the St. Anthony police department," he said. "We're providing technical assistance ... an outside look at the department based on the best practices of the industry."

The process, expected to take at least two years, is intended to raise the department "to the top of the field" in modern policing, he added.

The plan includes deep dives by experts into department arrest data, ride alongs with officers on patrol and community listening sessions that will start in January to help understand "what is working and what is not working," Davis said.

He vowed the review would be frank and honest.

"Truth can hurt but selective ignorance is fatal," he said

The Castile shooting jolted the Twin Cities — the bloody aftermath was captured and streamed live on Facebook by Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was a passenger in the car.

Police at the shooting scene.
Police secure evidence in July at the shooting scene on Larpenteur Avenue where Philando Castile was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

She said that St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Castile several times while he reached for his ID, and that Castile had told the officer he had a legal gun permit and was armed. The Facebook video attracted attention around the world.

Yanez faces second-degree manslaughter and two felony counts for dangerous discharge of a firearm near the passengers in the car at the time of the shooting. His attorneys filed a motion this week saying Castile was negligent in his own death because he was driving while high and did not follow Yanez's commands.

Davis said he wasn't here to fix a broken department but added that city leaders who work with the St. Anthony police want the review to be tough and honest. It's the "only way you'll strengthen relationships and build trust and make it better for the officers that serve these communities every day."

St. Anthony Mayor Jerry Faust acknowledged there will doubts about the sincerity of the effort, but said leaders need the support of doubters and the community at large as well people of color.

St. Anthony Police Chief Jon Mangseth said he and the department's leadership team have embraced the review as a way to assess the department's strengths and weaknesses "so we can serve our communities better."

The citizen's group St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action praised the review effort on Thursday calling it a step forward and applauding the police department for committing to "significantly reforming policing practices."

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