The police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile has been acquitted

Jeronimo Yanez, the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile last July, was acquitted Friday.

The 29-year-old had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm, and faced a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Castile’s death garnered national attention last July and prompted protests over police killings, after Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds livestreamed the aftermath of his shooting on Facebook.

Yanez had shot Castile during a traffic stop. He argued in court that he believed Castile had been trying to grab a gun. Reynolds, however, said Castile had only been reaching for his driver’s license.

Here’s what you need to know:

What we know about the shooting

Diamond Reynolds, girlfriend of Philando Castile gets a hug as people gather to protest the fatal shooting of Philando Castile by Minneapolis area police during a traffic stop on Wednesday, in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S., July 7, 2016.
Reuters/Adam Bettcher

Yanez shot Castile on July 6, 2016, during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb of Minnesota.

Castile’s death immediately drew national attention, as Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds had livestreamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, where it quickly went viral.

In the video, which also features Reynold’s then-four-year-old daughter in the backseat, Reynolds can be heard calmly speaking to Yanez and describing the events that had unfolded.

Reynolds says in the video that they had been pulled over due to a busted tail light, at which point Castile informed Yanez he had a firearm and was reaching for his wallet when Yanez opened fire.

In the video, Yanez can be heard shouting expletives and yelling, “I told him not to reach for it,” as Reynolds responds, “You told him to get his ID, sir. His driver’s license.”

Reynolds is expected to testify at trial. Prosecutors have said that in addition to her’ Facebook Live video of the shooting’s aftermath, footage taken from the police cruiser also captured video and audio of the incident and its aftermath. It is expected to be played for the first time in public at the trial, according to the Pioneer Press.

What we know about Yanez

Jeronimo Yanez.
St. Anthony’s police department.

Yanez, who is 29 years old and Latino, has worked for the St. Anthony Police Department since 2011.

He is believed to be the first police officer in Minnesota to be charged with killing a civilian, according to the Star Tribune. His defense attorneys have maintained that he shot Castile in self-defense.

Prosecutors, meanwhile, have emphasized that Castile was not resisting or fleeing when Yanez shot him.

“No reasonable officer, knowing, seeing and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time would’ve used deadly force under these circumstances,” Ramsey County Attorney John Choi told media. “There simply was no objective threat posted to Officer Yanez.”

Some policing experts have raised questions around law enforcement seminars Yanez attended, including one called “The Bulletproof Warrior” conducted by private company Calibre Press. The seminar has been criticized for fostering paranoia among officers, although the firm says the course is actually designed to save lives.

The challenges in prosecuting police officers

As has been the case with many fatal police encounters in recent years, it is notoriously difficult to prosecute police officers. Just this month, for instance, Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby was acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher, which occurred just months after Castile’s death.

Experts have suggested that despite being presented with video evidence of the shootings, juries – especially those made up of white Americans or middle-class black Americans – are still reluctant to overcome the so-called “halo effect” surrounding police officers that presumes their innocence.

“The interesting thing about video footage is that it’s still subject to interpretation,” Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, told Business Insider last summer.

“It takes a motivated prosecutor and a good prosecutor to convince whoever they have to convince that what you’re seeing on the video is illegal behavior.”