Yanez lawyers: BCA agents called Castile shooting justified

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, July 7, 2016.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News 2016

Attorneys for St. Anthony Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez claim Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents told the officer he was justified in shooting Philando Castile during a July traffic stop.

That claim, allegedly made by BCA agents before they formally interviewed Yanez about the shooting, is one of several statements Yanez's lawyers are asking the court to allow into evidence in the officer's upcoming trial.

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

Yanez is facing a second-degree manslaughter charge and two felony firearms charges for fatally shooting Castile at a traffic stop in July. His trial is scheduled to start May 30.

Prosecutors have argued that BCA statements are irrelevant and inadmissible. In an earlier filing, they say the BCA investigated this case without a recommendation regarding charges and that none of the BCA agents are witnesses to the shooting.

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Prosecutors wrote it's "equally possible" that BCA agents, who are licensed police officers, would have an opinion that the shooting was unjustified. An opinion like that, wouldn't be relevant either, they argue.

In a new filing Friday, however, defense attorneys Paul Engh, Thomas Kelly and Earl Gray argued that an opinion by a use of force expert the prosecution used to come up with the charges against Yanez, could also be viewed as irrelevant and inadmissible.

It's not clear what statements, recordings or evidence is available that would suggest BCA agents told Yanez the shooting was reasonable. A spokesperson for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension declined to comment, adding the agency is not able to discuss ongoing litigation.

In the same motion filed Friday, Yanez's attorneys continue to argue the case be moved out of Ramsey County.

They say media coverage of the shooting and protests in St. Paul, as well as the memorial site for Castile, are a reminder eight months later.

The defense said the crime has been "divisive" in the St. Paul area. The Castile memorial is "carefully maintained, projecting a message for everyone who drives or walks by today that an unjustified murder occurred at this particular place. A murder racially motivated."

The back-and-forth responses in court filings also include an argument about the statement that Yanez gave the BCA the day after the shooting. The defense wants it suppressed. They argue that it doesn't reflect Yanez's earlier statements or the fact that he was mentally and physically exhausted during the interview.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, say he interviewed voluntarily and with one of his lawyers present.

Both sides are set to argue their motions before Ramsey County District Judge William Leary III April 4.