Prosecutors: Cop who shot Castile can get fair trial in Ramsey County

Police at the shooting scene.
Police secure evidence at the shooting scene on Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights, where Philando Castile was shot by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

Updated: 12:58 p.m. | Posted: 8:24 a.m.

Prosecutors say the trial of a St. Anthony officer for the shooting death of Philando Castile should stay in Ramsey County despite the case's high profile and the public comments made by local leaders.

Attorneys for Officer Jeronimo Yanez are asking for the case to be moved because they say Yanez cannot get a fair trial in the county. In a court brief responding to that request, prosecutors argued that the internet and social media make it impossible to find a place where the Castile case is completely unknown.

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The trial judge has set an April 4 hearing on the motions.

Yanez is charged with a second-degree manslaughter charge in Castile's July 6 death during a routine traffic stop.

Yanez also faces two felony firearms charges for firing his gun into the car where Castile's girlfriend and her young daughter were sitting. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez
Booking photo for St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez
Ramsey County Sheriff's Office

Yanez's defense team argued in a motion filed earlier this month that the case had become an "omnipresent spectacle," and that news stories were "slanted against him."

The defense also argued that comments made by Gov. Mark Dayton, president Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison suggested Yanez's actions were caused by racial bias.

They asked the case not be heard in Ramsey County, which was the site of protests and a memorial to Castile. They recommended the trial be moved elsewhere in Minnesota to Duluth, Hastings, St. Cloud or Brainerd.

In the prosecution's court filing, they argue that a high level of publicity in a case, including opinions by readers, doesn't automatically qualify a case to be moved.

They argued that many of the stories cited by the defense team about Castile came from media organizations with wide reach into other parts of the state and nationally, not just Ramsey County.

"Simply put, that raises this question: when news reports and electronic social commentary can be readily accessed not just in Minnesota but virtually anywhere in the world as well," according to the filing, "Where can this case be transferred where individuals would not have access to information about this case or those involved, like the defendant and Mr. Castile?"

The memo signed by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, federal prosecutors Clayton Robinson and Jeffrey Paulsen, and Ramsey County Criminal Division Chief Richard Dusterhoft, said bias and prejudice can be determined during jury selection.

The prosecution's filing also argued that the request to change the venue of the trial could always be reconsidered if jurors can't be found in Ramsey County who are fair and impartial.

The Ramsey County Attorney's Office has also filed a number of other responses to motions made by defense attorneys.

Prosecutors oppose the defense team's request to dismiss manslaughter charges against Yanez and another that would suppress the interview Yanez gave to Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents the day after the shooting.