DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Jury selection is starting today in St. Paul, Minn., for the trial of a policeman charged with killing an African-American motorist. Philando Castile was the man shown on live video as he was dying in a car. Here is Matt Sepic from Minnesota Public Radio.
MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Here on Larpenteur Avenue, a four-lane road that goes through the Twin City suburb of Falcon Heights, police officer Jeronimo Yanez pulled over a 1997 Oldsmobile on the evening of July 6. Over the police radio, Yanez told his partner that he thought the driver fit the description of a suspect in a convenience store robbery that happened down the road just a few days earlier.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JERONIMO YANEZ: The driver looks more like one of our suspects just because of the wide-set nose.
SEPIC: Seventy-four seconds after Yanez activated his squad lights, he fired seven shots at 32-year-old Philando Castille as he lay dying, Castile's girlfriend Diamond Reynolds began live-streaming on Facebook. Her 4-year-old daughter watched from the backseat.
(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)
DIAMOND REYNOLDS: Please don't tell me my boyfriend just went like that.
YANEZ: Keep your hands where they are please.
REYNOLDS: Yes, I will sir. I'll keep my hands where they are. Please don't tell me this, lord. Please, Jesus, don't tell me that he's gone.
SEPIC: Castile who worked for years as a school cafeteria supervisor had a legally permitted handgun in his pocket. Prosecutors say he told the officer that while trying to pull out his driver's license. They also say Yanez warned Castile three times not to remove the gun, and Castile said repeatedly that he was not going for his weapon.
According to the criminal complaint, Castile's last words were I wasn't reaching for it. As the video rocketed around social media, weeks of protests shut down freeways in the Twin Cities and spurred an encampment outside the governor's residence. Four months later, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi charged Yanez with second degree manslaughter and dangerous discharge of a firearm. Yanez told state investigators that he feared for his life, but Choi argues Castile never threatened the officer.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
JOHN CHOI: The mere mention or presence of a firearm alone cannot justify the use of deadly force.
SEPIC: The officer's attorney is trying to get a judge to dismiss the case. They argued among other things that Castile was negligent in his own death. The defense lawyers claim he was driving while high on marijuana and did not follow Yanez's commands. When you drive around this mostly white suburb that sits between Minneapolis and St. Paul, you'll see signs in some front yard saying Falcon Heights the nation is watching.
At meetings with city leaders over the last year, many residents said Castile's death came amid a long history of racial profiling of drivers passing through this town. The police department is undergoing a voluntary review by the U.S. Justice Department. While taking a break from mowing his lawn, 54-year-old Ron Brisbois says he hasn't reached any conclusions about the case, but he is glad the process will play out in a public courtroom.
RON BRISBOIS: I think it was appropriate that charges were filed, and I think it's appropriate now that a jury will hear the testimony. And I think that's the way the system is intended to work.
SEPIC: This appears to be the first time a Minnesota police officer is being tried for shooting a civilian. Across the country in the last dozen years, there have been thousands of police shootings, but academic research shows only 80 officers were charged and just a third were convicted.
Along Larpenteur Avenue near the spot where Castile died, the temporary memorials of balloons and candles are gone. In their place is a modest three-sided polished wooden monument. The words of Castile's mother Valerie are inscribed on one side noting her son's soft-spoken nature. It reads you never talked much here, but you're making a lot of noise now. For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.
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