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A Minnesota County Attorney announced Wednesday that a St. Anthony police officer has been charged with second degree manslaughter in the death of Philando Castile. The aftermath was broadcast live on Facebook in July.
AP

ST. PAUL — A Minnesota police officer was criminally charged Wednesday in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile in July during a traffic stop in which the aftermath of his shooting was broadcast on Facebook Live.

On Wednesday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office charged St. Anthony Police officer Jeronimo Yanez with second-degree manslaughter and multiple counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm. He said that under Minnesota law as written the deadly use of force is not justified.

“I have given Officer Yanez every benefit of the doubt on his use of deadly force, but I cannot allow the death of a motorist who was lawfully carrying a firearm under these facts and circumstances to go unaccounted for,” said Choi. He said second-degree manslaughter, which involves “gross negligence and an element of recklessness,” is the most appropriate charge in these circumstances.

Yanez will make his first court appearance Friday. The county attorney said the officer is expected to turn himself in to authorities before then.

Choi explained that after 19 weeks of considering circumstances of the shooting, evidence gathered by investigators and the need for community transparency, it became clear to him that he must make the charging decision, and not refer the case to a grand jury.

“My conscience tells me it would be wrong to ask a grand jury to make this decision when I know in my heart what must be done,” said Choi.

In explaining the decision to charge Yanez with manslaughter, the county attorney described the final moments after Castile was pulled over for resembling a suspect in a gas station robbery that had taken place earlier in the evening. Choi recounted how Castile had calmly told Yanez that he was carrying a firearm, and had a permit to do so.

“Ok, don’t reach for it then,” Yanez stated. “Don’t pull it out,” he said emphatically.

“I’m not pulling it out,” Castile responded.

“Don’t pull it out,” Yanez screamed, pulled the gun from its holster and then fired seven shots in rapid succession. The final shot was fired two seconds after the clock struck 9:06 p.m. Audio captures Castile moaning, before uttering his last words.

“I wasn’t reaching for it…..”

Castile was taken to the hospital, where he died from his injuries.

“Philando Castile did not exhibit any intent, nor did he have any reason to shoot officer Yanez,” Choi insisted. “In fact, his dying words were in protest that he wasn’t reaching for his gun. There simply was no objective threat posed to Officer Yanez, (his partner), or anyone in that car.”

Prosecutors have been weighing potential charges against Yanez since receiving results of an in-depth investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on Sept. 28. Choi also enlisted the help of a special prosecutor, veteran civil rights attorney Don Lewis, to help forge a decision on potential charges and whether to bring the case to a grand jury.

Castile, 32, was fatally shot during a traffic stop the night of July 6 in Falcon Heights, Minn. His girlfriend Diamond Reynolds insists the officer shot Castile as he reached for an ID despite the fact Castile informed Yanez he had a gun and a permit to carry it. The officer’s attorney has said the officer was simply reacting to seeing a gun.

Reynolds streamed the graphic aftermath of the shooting live on Facebook, which brought the incident into the national spotlight. The YouTube clip of the incident has been viewed millions of times. The shooting triggered a series of emotionally charged protests, including one that shut down Interstate 94 and injured a law enforcement officer. Protesters camped out for weeks in front of the mansion of Minn. Gov. Mark Dayton. They shut down Summit Avenue a number of times.

In a statement, the city of St. Anthony said they were aware of the charges.

“We have confidence that justice will be served. Out of respect for the judicial process, the City intends to refrain from making any comments that could hinder a fair and impartial determination,” the city said.

The City of Falcon Heights, which contracts with St. Anthony for police services, sought to assure the community that Castile’s death will be a catalyst for change.

“We have heard concerns since the shooting of Mr. Castile from residents and non-residents about issues involving current law enforcement procedures in our community and we will continue to work diligently to review and address those concerns,” it said in a statement.

Choi’s announcement comes a day after the one-year anniversary of another high-profile police killing in Minnesota. Jamar Clark was killed in Minneapolis on Nov. 15, 2015.

The deadly encounter with Clark, 24, followed a police call for a domestic assault at a birthday party where a man was interfering with medical personnel.

During a subsequent struggle with Clark, one of the officers told state investigators that Clark’s hand reached his gun. The officer’s partner reportedly warned Clark to release the weapon when Clark allegedly replied, “I’m ready to die.”

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman decided no charges would be filed in that case, opting to make the decision himself instead of handing the case to a grand jury.

Castile was shot a day after a Baton Rouge police officer fatally shot Alton Sterling.

The July 5 shooting, recorded on two cellphones and shared on the Internet showed two white officers who pinned down Sterling. The police had responded to a convenience store after an anonymous caller indicated a man, later identified as Sterling, 37, was selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun, Cpl. L’Jean McKneely said.

Contributing: Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY; The (Lafayette, La.) Daily Advertiser; Step Solis, USA TODAY. Follow KARE-TV on Twitter: @kare11