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Sunday December 15th, 2019 9:52PM

Minnesota officer on tape: 'I don't know where the gun was'

By The Associated Press
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota police officer who fatally shot a black motorist told a supervisor on the scene that he didn't know where the motorist's gun was, but added that he told the motorist to get his hand off the firearm, according to audio recorded after the shooting.

The audio is key evidence in the manslaughter trial of Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Philando Castile last July in a St. Paul suburb. Prosecutors argue Yanez acted unreasonably; his attorneys say he feared for his life and made a split-second decision in the presence of a gun.

Yanez and another officer had stopped Castile over a broken taillight when the 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker informed Yanez he was carrying a gun. Within seconds of hearing that, Yanez fired seven shots and Castile was mortally wounded.

The shooting was one in a string involving police and black men nationally, and drew added attention because Castile's girlfriend streamed the aftermath on Facebook as he lay dying. Castile's family claimed he was profiled because of his race.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have given different narratives about whether or not Yanez saw Castile's gun.

The audio of the encounter came from squad car video, which does not show Yanez after the shooting but picks up his voice from his body microphone. He is heard swearing, yelling and breathing heavily. He tells a supervising officer that Castile went to grab something and that Castile's grip seemed wider than a wallet would be.

"I don't know where the gun was," Yanez says. "He didn't tell me where the (expletive) gun was." Seconds later, he added, "I told him to take his (expletive) hand off the gun."

The officer who was with Yanez, Joseph Kauser, testified that Yanez later told him he had seen a gun on Castile, who had a permit for the weapon.

Kauser said he didn't see a gun from his vantage point on the passenger side of Castile's car. But Kauser also said he was watching Castile's passengers — his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and Reynolds' then-4-year-old daughter — rather than the driver.

An officer who arrived on the scene, Roseville police Officer Juan Toran, said he performed CPR on Castile. As paramedics were rolling Castile onto a backboard, Toran said he saw the gun slide out of Castile's front right pocket. Toran said he didn't even have to reach into the pocket to grab it.

But St. Paul firefighter Eric Torgerson, a paramedic, testified that he saw an officer reach deeply into the pocket to retrieve the pistol.

Yanez, 29, who is Latino, is also charged with two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm for endangering Reynolds and her daughter.

Earlier Tuesday, Reynolds cried as squad car video, her Facebook video and still images of Castile were shown. Asked why she took out her phone and started recording, Reynolds said she feared for her own life.

"Because I know that the people are not protected against the police," Reynolds said. "I wanted to make sure if I died in front of my daughter that people would know the truth."

Defense attorneys also have argued that Castile had smoked marijuana that day and that it affected his actions. Toxicology reports show Castile had THC — the high-producing component of marijuana — in his system.

Reynolds acknowledged under questioning from defense attorney Earl Gray that she and Castile smoked regularly. She also acknowledged marijuana was in the car at the time. Gray's questioning also revealed inconsistencies in several statements she made to authorities and in public, including whether Castile was reaching for his wallet or seat belt when he was shot.

In his testimony, Kauser discussed the reason for the traffic stop and the way the officers handled it. He said even though Yanez told him that he thought Castile resembled a suspect in a recent armed robbery, there was not enough concern to do a felony traffic stop — in which all occupants are ordered out of the car with their hands up before officers approach.

Kauser, who is a good friend of Yanez, said he believed Yanez followed proper protocol, and that Castile was moving after Yanez told him not to reach for the gun.

Kauser and Toran also talked about how they would act if a motorist told them about a gun: They'd make sure hands were in view and ask where the gun was. They also testified about the vulnerability of officers during traffic stops.

A jury of 15, including three alternates, is hearing the case in Ramsey County District Court. Two of the 15 are black.

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Follow Amy Forliti on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/amyforliti

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This story has been corrected to show that Yanez's remarks captured on audio after the shooting were to another officer who was not his partner.

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