Cop Who Fatally Shot Philando Castile: Smell of Pot Made Him Fear For His Life

By Victoria Kim 06/23/17

The acquitted officer claims that discovering Castille allegedly smoking pot in front of his young daughter led him to fear for his life.

Jeronimo Yanez
Jeronimo Yanez Photo via YouTube

The smell of “burnt marijuana” made police officer Jeronimo Yanez fear for his life, causing him to lose his composure and fire seven rounds at 32-year-old motorist Philando Castile during a traffic stop in July 2016. That’s what Yanez told Minnesota investigators the day after shooting and killing Castile in front of his girlfriend and her four-year-old daughter.

“I thought I was gonna die,” said Yanez, according to the Star Tribune. “And I thought 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…then what care does he give about me? And I let off the rounds and then after the rounds were off, the little girl was screaming.”

Yanez said he’d pulled Castile over for a busted brake light, and because he “appeared to match the physical description” of a robbery suspect. 

While approaching the car, Yanez said he smelled “burnt marijuana” coming from the vehicle, but didn’t mention it because “I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner.” 

When Officer Yanez asked Castile for his license, he informed Yanez that he had a firearm. Castile was a licensed gun owner. According to the Star Tribune’s review of the case, Yanez shot Castile “six seconds after” he told the officer he had a gun. “At that point I was scared and I was in fear for my life and my partner’s life,” Yanez told investigators.

Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the passenger seat, said Castile was reaching for his license when Yanez started shooting. Castile’s permit to carry was later found in his wallet. (The NRA has been silent about this case.)

Yanez profiled Castile for his cannabis use and the fact that he was a gun owner; the cop, described by Reynolds as “jittery” during the traffic stop, wondered if Castile kept the gun for protection “from a drug dealer or someone trying to ‘rip’ him,” according to the Star Tribune.

Reynolds said the cannabis in the car was hers, and that Castile carried a gun to protect himself and his family.

The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham notes that back in May, Yanez’s defense team submitted details about Castile’s cannabis use as evidence in the manslaughter trial, asserting that “Castile was culpable in his death because he was under the influence of drugs when Yanez shot him,” the Pioneer Press reported at the time.

Yanez was acquitted earlier this month of charges of second-degree manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. 

Even in the case of the murder of Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman’s defense tried to reason that because cannabis was detected in the 17-year-old’s body his judgment could have been affected the night he was shot and killed by Zimmerman. 

Zimmerman, who was a part of his neighborhood watch program, decided to follow Martin that night; the two ultimately got into a scuffle which ended with Zimmerman shooting and killing the boy. Zimmerman, too, was acquitted of murder. 

”The system in this country continues to fail black people and will continue to fail us,” Philando Castile’s mother said after Yanez's not guilty verdict.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr