A transcript released Tuesday by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) revealed that police officer Jeronimo Yanez told investigators the smell of marijuana from Philando Castile’s car was a major reason he considered the man a threat.
Yanez, who is Latino, shot Castile, who is black, five times during a July 6, 2016 traffic stop in Falcon Heights, Minn. The shooting occurred seconds after Castile informed the officer he was carrying a gun. Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, had a permit to carry the weapon.
Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her then-4-year-old-daughter were also in the car. The case sparked national outcry in part because Reynolds live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook.
On Friday, a jury acquitted Yanez of second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm in the shooting. On Tuesday, authorities released thousands of pages of investigative reports along with dashcam footage of the traffic stop and shooting.
The day after the shooting, the BCA interviewed Yanez. According to the transcript (read the full document below), the officer told investigators he noticed the smell of marijuana before even observing the occupants of the vehicle.
“As soon as I get up to the car I’m hit with a odor of burning marijuana. And I know it’s already been smoked and I’ve been around, through my training, I’ve been around burnt marijuana and as a police officer I’ve been around burnt marijuana and fresh marijuana. So I know the distinct smells between both. I smelled burnt marijuana. And then I see a female child in the back. And then I see a front seat passenger, adult female in the front seat.”
Yanez also claimed the smell of marijuana made him think Castile might be carrying a weapon because he may be involved in drug trafficking.
“Being that… the inside of the vehicle smelled like marijuana, I didn’t know if he was keeping it on him for protection, for, from a, a drug dealer or anything like that, or any other people trying to rip him. Rip him meaning steal from him.”
In Minnesota, possession of 42.5 grams or less (1.48 ounces) of marijuana is a misdemeanor with a $200 maximum fine. Driving while under the influence of a controlled substance is a criminal offence, but presence of THC in a person’s body is not.
During the trial, Yanez’s defense lawyers claimed that Castile didn’t respond to the officer’s requests because he was high. According to The New York Times, Earl Gray, Officer Yanez’s lawyer told jurors: “He did not follow orders. He was stoned.”
Castile’s autopsy showed he had THC in his blood when he died, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. A defense witness testified that the THC level meant he had smoked within two hours of his death. But a prosecution expert testified that postmortem blood testing isn’t reliable when it comes to marijuana use, the paper reported.
During the BCA interview, Yanez told investigators that the fact that Castile and Reynolds would smoke marijuana in front of the daughter indicated to him that Castile wouldn’t care about taking the officer’s life.
“As he was pulling at, out his hand, I thought, I was gonna die. And I thought if he’s, if he has 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.”
Yanez also revealed to investigators that he intended to ask Castile to exit the vehicle because of the smell of marijuana.
“But you didn’t say anything about the marijuana?” investigators asked.
“I didn’t say anything about that … I didn’t wanna escalate the situation,” the officer replied.
During the trial, Yanez’s defense lawyers repeatedly mentioned marijuana, which was discovered in the vehicle after the shooting. “He’s (Castile) got a gun. He might be the robber. He’s got marijuana in his car. Those are the things in Officer Yanez’s head,” Gray said, according to The New York Times.
The New York Times also reported that prosecutor Jeffrey Paulsen said the dash cam video footage proved that Mr. Castile was “driving normally, pulled over quickly and was alert and courteous when talking to Officer Yanez.”
Joseph Kauser, Yanez’s partner, testified that he didn’t smell burnt marijuana in the car, the Pioneer Press reported. Police delivered evidence at trial of 6 grams of weed inside a plastic baggie tucked in a jar with the lid off on Reynolds’ seat.
Yanez’s defense also argued that Castile lied about his marijuana use when he applied for his gun permit and therefore acquired it illegally. As required under federal law, Minnesota’s permit-to-carry application states that the applicant “must not be an unlawful user of any controlled substance as defined in Chapter 152 of Minnesota Statutes.”
Yanez’s acquittal has led to days of protests, including one in St. Paul last Friday that shut down Interstate 94 for hours. Police arrested eighteen people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Read Yanez’s post-shooting interview with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
(In the above article, utterances such as “uh” have been removed for reading clarity)