Saw this article pop up today, where a police officer named Chris Hernandez stated there is “no way” the shooting of Philando Castile was justified. Of course I wrote my own piece explaining why I think officer Yanez was not unreasonable in his actions which can be read here, but I want to respond to this article from Chris Hernandez. Please read both of those articles before reading this one.
I was surprised to see him write it, because his article on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO is probably the best and most thorough article I’ve seen on the topic. Likewise, his article on Tamir Rice is almost a word for word match of mine. And his article on Alton Sterling made many of the same points that mine did.
So why the difference here? Well, as I’ll attempt to demonstrate, his reasoning in the Castile shooting is actually in direct contradiction to his reasoning in some of his other articles.
Castile had no history of violence or criminal history worse than traffic offenses, and no connection to the robbery Yanez thought he might have been involved in. He was on his way back home from a grocery store when he was stopped, and wasn’t committing any crime save two: his license was suspended, and he had a small bag of marijuana in the car. The marijuana is significant, for reasons I’ll explain later.
It is true that Castile had no violent criminal history, but I’d like to know how he knows that Castile had no connection to the robbery Yanez thought he might have been involved in. Did detectives finally discover who did commit the robbery? If not, how can one be sure it wasn’t Castile? It is true that no warrant had been issued for Castile’s arrest regarding the robbery, but that doesn’t mean officer Yanez was out of bounds to see a guy who resembled the guy he had seen on surveillance video just days prior and make a traffic stop to get more information. And regardless of whether it was Castile or not who committed that robbery, officer Yanez was operating under the idea that it COULD POSSIBLY be Castile, so he found a reason for contact (burned out brake light) and made the stop.
He also says he wasn’t committing any crime save two: his license was suspended, and he had a small bag of marijuana in the car. Driving on a suspended license is an arrestable offense in Minnesota, as is possession of marijuana, even a personal amount. But Mr. Hernandez failed to mention that the toxicology report showed that Castile had high levels of THC (marijuana) in his system. So he was actually driving while intoxicated. Not only was he driving while intoxicated, but he was driving while intoxicated with a minor in the car. In many states that’s a felony, in Minnesota it’s a gross misdemeanor which is like a more serious version of a misdemeanor but falls just short of being a felony. Either way, driving while intoxicated with a child in the car is a pretty serious crime, ask anyone who’s worked a fatality accident where a child died or was severely injured because their parent was driving drunk or high. For Mr. Hernandez to blow this off like it’s nothing is shocking, especially for a police officer.
Hernandez further blows Castile’s crimes off by saying…
Some people will undoubtedly argue that point by saying “He was driving on a suspended license and had drugs in the car.” My response is, “So what?” Plenty of people who aren’t criminals have suspended licenses. Anyone down on their luck can let their insurance lapse, which can then lead to a ticket they can’t pay, which then leads to a suspended license. A suspension can mean a drunk driving or drug arrest, but not always. And he had a personal use amount of marijuana in the car, not a kilo. If smoking marijuana makes people criminals, a lot of service members, regular working people and even cops are or were criminals.
Another shocking thing for a police officer to say. “So what?” Look, I’m not saying that driving on a suspended license or possessing marijuana or even driving while high with a kid in the car makes one deserving of death, but to blow these things off as if they’re akin to jaywalking is absurd and I’m shocked that an officer of the law is treating them as such.
Hernandez then makes some odd assumptions…
As far as I can tell, there is no indication whatsoever that Castile was actually drawing on Yanez;
There’s no indication that Castile was drawing his weapon because there’s no video that shows what the officer was seeing or what Castile’s hands were actually doing. Ultimately it’s what the officer is seeing that determines whether his fear was reasonable, not what armchair quarterbacks see (or don’t see) from a dash cam video. The situation was not altogether different from the Alton Sterling situation in which Mr. Hernandez defended the officers decision to shoot. Both suspects had a gun in their pocket (though Yanez did not know where Castile’s gun was), both were reaching in the area of the gun when told not to, and both had plenty of motive to try to get away. The only difference is that Sterling had physically resisted arrest at this point whereas Castile had not, as no arrest was being attempted on him yet.
Castile’s background, character, and dozens of previous stops without resistance don’t suggest he would have.
This complacency is what gets officers killed. How many people that end up shooting and killing police have also had multiple encounters with police where they didn’t shoot them? Wish I had time to run the numbers, but my guess is that it’s almost all of them. Just because they haven’t done it before doesn’t mean it’s out of the question that they could do it now. And ultimately, his character or history has very VERY little relevance to whether this shooting was justified or not. If a squeaky clean Baptist pastor with no criminal history at all reaches in an area where a gun could be after being told not to reach, an officer is reasonable in feeling afraid in that moment as well. It also stands in direct opposition to what Mr. Hernandez wrote in his article about Sterling where he said…
Sterling was a convicted felon; while many will say this is irrelevant because the officers didn’t know Sterling’s history, it’s actually tremendously important because it shows why Sterling did what he did. He was a registered sex offender, living in a halfway house, with a gun in his pocket. He knew he’d go back to prison if he was arrested for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
So in the Sterling article Mr. Hernandez rightly points out the significance of the motive that Sterling would have to do anything necessary to escape. Yet here, he completely dismisses the idea that Castile would have any reason to escape even though he’s committing 3 crimes, one of which is fairly serious. And while it’s unlikely that Castile would have done the kind of hard prison time that Sterling would have if arrested, it’s still worth taking note of because Castile had plenty of motive to try to keep these officers from arresting him. In fact, Mr. Hernandez has already stated that people do irrational things all the time, here’s what he said in his Michael Brown article…
Tell me it’s rational to commit robbery and risk going to prison for $50 worth of drug paraphernalia. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Tell me it’s rational to assault a cop in his patrol car right after you’ve committed a robbery. It’s not, but that’s exactly what Michael Brown did. Every time a prisoner who had done something remarkably stupid, like the guy who threw a cup of gasoline into his two-year old daughter’s eyes during a family disturbance and then ran away instead of helping her, said, “I didn’t do that! Why would I do that?”, my answer was always the same. “Don’t ask me to explain why you did something stupid. I don’t know why you did it. It doesn’t make sense. But you did it, not me. You explain it.”
Yet here he is saying that Yanez had absolutely no reason to believe that Castile would do something irrational like try to shoot him to get out of going to jail for having a bag of weed in the car.
When Yanez walked up to Castile’s car and began the stop, he encountered a polite, cooperative, noncriminal driver with what appeared to be his wife and daughter during daylight hours.
Noncriminal? That’s just a very bad adjective to describe someone who’s driving while high with a child in the car. Sorry. Polite? I’ll give you that. Cooperative? Cooperative would have been not reaching after being told multiple times to stop reaching. We’ll get into that more later. And I’m not sure what his wife and daughter being in the car or the daylight hours has to do with anything. Plenty of people have shot police with their family in the car and during the daytime. It’s irrelevant to whether or not Yanez had reason to fear for his life. Having a child in the car does not grant one “harmless” status by default. I’m surprised an officer with as much experience as Mr. Hernandez is even trying to make this point.
Nothing in the context of the stop indicated Castile was a threat.
Except that he was armed and was reaching when told not to, but you know, details.
If you counter with “But Yanez thought Castile was a robbery suspect,” Yanez’s own actions disprove that. He didn’t conduct a felony stop like we would if we were stopping a dangerous felony suspect, he conducted a regular stop and approached in a casual manner. Yanez said he thought Castile was drawing on him, and I don’t see anything in the context of the stop to make that a reasonable assumption.
Felony stops are not always the best course of action unless you’re CERTAIN you have a dangerous felon. Doing a traffic stop so that you can identify a guy who MIGHT be a robbery suspect doesn’t always mandate a felony stop. I would not have faulted officer Yanez for doing a felony stop, but neither do I fault him for performing a standard stop and trying not to tip Castile off as to why he’s really looking into him. Officer Yanez’ fairly casual demeanor on this stop was to keep Castile calm and not make him feel cornered, as evidenced in Yanez’ own statement wherein he said, “I told them the reason for the traffic stop and I then I wasn’t going to say anything about the marijuana yet because I didn’t want to scare him or have him react in a defensive manner.” I’m guessing that’s also why he didn’t tell him that he resembled a robbery suspect or perform a felony stop.
And again, the pistol was carried with an empty chamber. Seriously, should we think this calm, cooperative, noncriminal driver with no history of violence and his girlfriend and a little girl in the car was going to pull his empty-chamber pistol from his pocket, load a round and shoot the officer?
This statement is absurd. As if officer Yanez had any way of knowing there wasn’t a round in the chamber at the time. He also had no way of knowing where the gun was, whether it was in Castile’s pocket or in his center console or under the seat. Easy to Monday morning QB the situation with all of that knowledge in hindsight. And again, it stands in direct opposition to Mr. Hernandez’ previous articles where he rightly pointed out that the officers who shot Tamir Rice had no way of knowing that his gun was a toy gun or that Rice was only 12 years old. Yet here, he expects Yanez to have some kind of psychic knowledge as to the gun’s whereabouts and that the gun didn’t have a round in the chamber.
Castile had a reason to reach for something: Yanez asked him for his license and insurance, he had only given Yanez his insurance and still had to give Yanez his license.
Except that Castile’s license was suspended, so he would not have had a license to give to officer Yanez. Which begs the question, what exactly WAS he reaching for? Perhaps he had some other form of identification he was reaching for or perhaps he was reaching for his weapon permit since he had already notified him of the gun at this point. Regardless, if we are going to pick apart every little thing that the officer said, let’s pick this apart too. Wouldn’t the correct response be, “Here is my insurance, and I don’t have my license on me to give you”? Officer Yanez didn’t ask to see his gun permit or any other form of ID, he asked for his insurance and his license. If I ask you to pass me the remote, do you hand me a loaf of bread? Now Mr. Hernandez’ defense of Castile is that Castile’s just a citizen who didn’t know any better and that officer Yanez should have given more clear, precise instructions. But I call foul on that precisely because Castile had a permit to carry his gun, and you cannot obtain those permits without attending a class where they make it very clear what you’re supposed to do and NOT do when you encounter law enforcement and you have a gun on you. You can blame Castile’s lack of clear thinking on the marijuana if you want, but regardless, he didn’t follow a pretty simple instruction to stop reaching.
After Castile told Yanez he was armed, Yanez told him “Don’t reach for it.” He didn’t say “Hands up,” “Hands on the steering wheel,” or “Freeze.” He simply told Castile not to reach for his gun, and a reasonable person who’s just been ordered to hand over his license but not touch his gun would think it was okay to grab his wallet. I can almost guarantee when Castile said “I’m not reaching for it,” he really wasn’t and was simply reaching for his license.
Yes, it would have been better for officer Yanez to have said “Hands up” or “Freeze” but if you’ve just notified an officer you have a gun and you start reaching for something and the officer says “Don’t reach for it” it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that the best course of action would be to just stop reaching for WHATEVER it was that you were reaching for. It’s common sense. And again, perhaps the high levels of THC in Castile’s system prevented him from thinking clearly, but that’s not the fault of the officer.
On any stop, it is not the driver’s job to figure out what we mean, it’s our job to give clear, easily-understandable instructions. Yanez didn’t do that.
Yanez DID do that when he said “Don’t reach for it.” This isn’t like the child’s game Simon Says where it doesn’t count if you don’t say “Simon Says” before you give your instruction. Any reasonable person would have stopped reaching for whatever they were reaching for if the officer said, “Don’t reach for it.” especially if they’re drawing their own gun and the pitch in their voice is getting louder and higher.
Yanez said Castile reached between his right leg and the console. That’s not where the gun was.
Again, irrelevant. Yanez doesn’t have to know exactly where the gun is to still believe Castile could be reaching for it. If Yanez knew the gun was in his pocket and Castile reached somewhere else, that would be different, but Yanez didn’t have that knowledge in hindsight like everyone else does.
I’ve pocket carried quite a bit. One of the drawbacks of pocket carry is that it’s hard as hell to draw when seated. Maybe it’s easier if you’re wearing really baggy shorts, and maybe Castile was wearing baggy shorts. But in my experience, drawing from your right pocket while seated in a car requires you to lift your hips and rotate them left to get your pocket clear of the seat belt. Nothing on the video or in anyone’s testimony suggests Castile raised or rotated his hips to get access to his weapon.
Irrelevant. Again, Yanez had no way to know if the gun was in his pocket or in the area Castile was reaching for.
Marijuana doesn’t make people homicidally violent, and tends to produce the exact opposite effect. If Yanez had walked up and seen the dark glass vials associated with PCP or smelled the strong chemical scent of meth, yes I can see why he’d tense up. I would too. A smell of marijuana might mean you’re about to have a fight on your hands because the driver doesn’t want to go to jail, but it doesn’t mean someone high on marijuana is somehow more dangerous.
This is one of the more baffling things about the article. As if people high on marijuana are somehow incapable of shooting a gun. In fact, wasn’t Michael Brown high on marijuana when he assaulted officer Wilson, tried to take his gun, and then charged at him like an angry bull? See? Mr. Hernandez is just wildly inconsistent here!
A calm peaceful driver legally carrying a pistol who didn’t do anything violent or dangerous politely told an officer he was armed and followed the officer’s instructions to get his wallet but was then shot because the officer thought he was reaching for a gun in a place where the gun actually wasn’t because the officer smelled marijuana and thought it meant the driver was homicidally dangerous. Does that make sense to anyone?
If we’re going to pick apart officer Yanez’ words with hindsight and all the time in the world whereas he only had seconds in a high stress situation then I’m going to pick yours apart Mr. Hernandez. Yanez never told him to get his wallet, he asked him for his insurance and license. Castile had no license to give and had already given his insurance, so what need would there be to reach for something else? And again, to fault Yanez for being afraid of Castile reaching near his thigh and between the seats, when Yanez had no idea where the gun might be, is ridiculous. Finally, Yanez never said marijuana makes people homicidal, he simply said that if Castile didn’t care enough about his own “daughter” that he would expose her to second hand marijuana smoke (not to mention drive her around in a 3,000 pound vehicle while high), then perhaps Castile wouldn’t think twice about shooting him. There’s logic in it, even if Castile was just a nice guy who just made an honest, tragic mistake.
Does it make sense that Yanez would fire seven times at almost contact range and miss twice, putting one round sixteen inches away from the little girl he thought he had to protect from secondhand pot smoke?
You shoot until the threat is neutralized. Most officers, after being involved in a shooting, can’t even correctly tell you how many rounds they fired. If I really, truly feel I’m about to die, yeah, I might just shoot 7 times, I might shoot more than that, even at point blank range. I’m going to stop the threat to my life as quickly and efficiently as possible, and firing several rounds should help me achieve that goal. If you shoot one round and then stop and try to admire your work you might just catch a bullet in the face still if your one shot didn’t stop the threat. And again, I’m surprised to see Mr. Hernandez questioning the number of rounds fired when he himself listed example after example of how multiple rounds do not always stop a threat immediately. And the last part of Mr. Hernandez’ statement is possibly the most absurd yet, to imply that officer Yanez shot Castile to protect his daughter from second hand smoke. That’s the most dishonest thing about the article so far. It’s dishonest, inflammatory rhetoric on par with something Black Lives Matter might say. Shame on you Mr. Hernandez. He shot Castile because he truly believed he was about to be shot if he didn’t, so leave that crap out, it has no place coming from a fellow officer. Even if you disagree with the shooting, to try to imply that Yanez shot Castile merely to protect the little girl from second hand smoke is simply absurd.
Yanez’s acquittal wasn’t a victory for law enforcement, it was a defeat. It was a message that cops can be expected to panic over nothing, to shoot upon the slightest provocation, and get a pass if they make the most ridiculous, flimsiest excuses for being “in fear.”
Panic over nothing? So an armed man reaching into a dark area of his car when you know he has a gun somewhere and has been told to stop reaching is “panic over nothing?” Especially when you believe he may be a suspect in an armed robbery or that he may be about to shoot you to escape the consequences of driving while high and possessing marijuana? This is what pisses me off about fellow officers sometimes. They like to Monday morning quarterback situations that they weren’t even in and say that they could have done everything better. Yes, being an officer does give you more credibility to speak on such matters than the average Joe who’s never faced daily danger, but I’m always very careful to second guess an officer’s decisions unless I was there with them. Even watching the dash cam video does not really give us a full and complete perspective. Only that officer actually in that situation has that perspective, so to sit back and unequivocally say that the officer was utterly unreasonable to be afraid is the height of arrogance, even coming from another officer (but especially coming from your average Joe).
Also, officer Yanez hardly “got a pass.” He was arrested and charged with manslaughter. He was taken from his family. Put in handcuffs. Forced to defend himself against the charges and face many years behind bars if he lost. Just because a jury of his peers heard arguments from both sides and decided there wasn’t enough there to convict him hardly means he “got a pass” especially since he’s now jobless and will probably have to find a new line of work since no department will touch him given the societal repercussions that would come from that. Let’s not forget that he likely had to move his family from their home and into hiding as there were undoubtedly death threats sent his way (as there are in every shooting now). But yeah, he got a pass. Okay. I’m sure he feels real great about everything.
As far as I can tell Castile did literally nothing wrong, but Yanez panicked over nothing and killed an innocent man.
Castile did nothing wrong? Nothing? Driving while high with the kid in the car? Driving on a suspended license? Possessing an illegal drug? Reaching when told not to? I mean, really? I’m not saying Castile is some hardened criminal who definitely had intentions of killing officer Yanez. I think the most likely explanation is that he was too high to make sense of officer Yanez’ instructions not to reach and continued reaching anyway. What he was reaching for, I guess none of us will ever know, but the officer was under no obligation to wait until he had a gun barrel in his face to take action, a fact you yourself brought up in your Alton Sterling article where you said,
Anyone who reasonably perceives a threat from an armed suspect but waits until the gun is in the suspect’s hand is asking to get shot.
Hernandez also said in that same article…
“BUT HE DIDN’T HAVE THE GUN IN HIS HAND! THAT MAKES IT MURDER!”
No, it doesn’t. Do people actually think police can’t shoot a suspect until he actually draws and points a gun at them?
Hernandez continues about Castile…
If you’re a cop you may want to take a hard look at this shooting, understand why so many people are understandably angry about it, and work at both the policy and personal levels to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And you, Mr. Hernandez, may want to take a hard look at this shooting and question your own complacency. And I mean that with all seriousness as someone who doesn’t want to see another brother in blue killed on the streets, because I’ve seen far too much of that in my career as it is. I have been involved in two situations where I have no doubt I could have shot and killed the suspects and the grand jury would have no-billed me. Thankfully it didn’t come to that and I was able to take them in alive, but I often think about those arrests and I wonder if I wasn’t a little too trusting that things would work out OK. Maybe next time that I give that suspect a few more seconds to do the right thing is the time he does just the opposite and I catch one in the head and my wife gets that phone call that all police wives dread. Is that the point we are at now? Instead of demanding compliance with lawful orders we simply offer up our throats and hope that the suspect doesn’t slash them? Should you really encourage more officers to take on unnecessary risks to appease an angry public that doesn’t have the first clue as to what it takes to be a cop or face danger every single day, especially given the skyrocketing number of shootings of police officers that are fueled by the very kind of rhetoric you’re spouting in your article about “understandable anger?” I’m not one to defend cops no matter what. I said Michael Slager was wrong in shooting Walter Scott, I’ve questioned the Laquan McDonald shooting even though that one’s a little more of a gray area, and although there’s no video to see, it certainly seems at a glance like the shooting of Jonathan Edwards was a bad one. But this one isn’t too different from Tamir Rice or Alton Sterling. Also, what policies would you like to change? Should officers be required to start taking rounds before they’re allowed to fire? I just don’t get it, this Castile article is such a stark contrast from your other articles it’s almost like someone else wrote it. Your time in the military and time as an officer most definitely commands respect, and your prior articles are police shootings were spot on, so I implore you to ask yourself why this one is so starkly different.