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THC Positive Autopsy Used to Justify Fatal Police Shooting

Lawyers for officer Jeronimo Yanez, the St. Anthony, Minnesoat, police officer charged with second degree manslaughter int he shooting death of Philando Castile, are citing the positive THC results of Castil'es autopsy as justification for the shooting.
Photo Tony Webster


THC Positive Autopsy Used to Justify Fatal Police Shooting

Lawyers for the police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Philando Castile say all charges should be dropped because Castile’s post-mortem blood test showed high levels of THC. If this defense strategy prevails, it could set a scary precedent for the thousands of Americans who consume cannabis medically or recreationally.

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in the Falcon Heights neighborhood of St. Anthony, Minnesota, July 6, 2016. Yanez has been charged with second-degree manslaughter for the shooting, which prosecutors say was unprovoked.

From the New York Times:

[Castile] kept his seatbelt fastened, greeted Officer Yanez and handed over his insurance card, according to prosecutors’ version of events. Then, before his girlfriend said he reached for the wallet that contained his driver’s license and permit to carry a pistol, Mr. Castile said, “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.”

Within seconds, Officer Yanez, of the St. Anthony police, had shouted, “Don’t pull it out,” and Mr. Castile and his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, tried to assure him that he was not grabbing the gun. But Officer Yanez quickly fired seven rounds, fatally wounding Mr. Castile just 62 seconds after the traffic stop began. An instant later, Mr. Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it.”

Reynolds broadcast the immediate aftermath of the shooting on social media. The live video feed showed Castile bleeding to death as Reynolds tried to calm her 4-year-old daughter, who was also inside the car at the time of the shooting. The graphic, emotionally wrenching video inspired a firestorm of protests and stoked a still-raging debate about police violence and race in the United States.

But a recent memo filed by Yanez’s attorneys says the presence of THC in Castile’s system at the time of his death makes him “culpably negligent” in the shooting and calls for the charges against Yanez to be dropped.

From MPR News:

“The allegation is that of ‘culpable negligence,'” they wrote in the motion to dismiss, adding, “the question, unanswered by the complaint, with whether Mr. Castile himself was negligent. And did his negligence at least contribute to this tragedy.”

The defense argues that because Castile smoked marijuana and was “stoned” during the traffic stop — they cite an autopsy report saying he had high levels of THC, a chemical in marijuana, in his system when he died — he didn’t follow Yanez’s commands…

Castile was licensed to carry a weapon, and had a gun with him in the car when Yanez pulled him over. Early in the traffic stop, he told the officer about the gun, and that’s when the incident escalated…

The defense argues that because Castile was a marijuana user, he shouldn’t have carried a firearm in the first place. It also references material from Castile’s permit-to-carry instructor, James Diehl, that says he was taught to tell the officer he had a permit, follow orders and show his hands.

Reynolds has acknowledged that she and Castile smoked marijuana shortly before the shooting, but as most cannabis users know, THC and other cannabinoids can remain in your body for a month or more after ingesting the plant or its derivatives. This same physiological fact makes testing for “weed DUI” a task fraught with scientific ambiguities.

Yanez has not yet filed a plea in the case, so it remains to be seen how effective this defense strategy will be. But if giving police officers wide leeway to use lethal force against individuals they deem “intoxicated” on marijuana is scary, the prospect of that same lethal force being legally justified in instances where THC is merely present in the victim’s blood is terrifying.

TELL US, are you concerned about the broader repercussions of this memo?


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