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Posted: November 29, 2017

Another settlement, but no conviction, in police shooting of black man

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, in St. Paul, Minn., in July file image. (Star Tribune photo)
Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, in St. Paul, Minn., in July file image. (Star Tribune photo)

By Richard Halicks

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Diamond Reynolds, who watched a police officer shoot her boyfriend, Philando Castile, and then live-streamed Castile’s death on Facebook, is in line to receive an $800,000 settlement, officials in St. Anthony, Minn., said Tuesday.

That settlement is in top of a nearly $3 million payout, approved last summer, to Castile’s estate. But it’s also a reminder that a long string of similar cases – Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and others – resulted in substantial payments to survivors but no criminal convictions of the officers involved.

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who shot Castile multiple times after stopping him for a broken tail light, was charged with second-degree manslaughter. He was acquitted at trial in June.

“Society views felony charges very differently, as carrying a much higher level of moral blame,” said Atlanta civil rights attorney Leighton Moore. “Cops come into court with a lot of advantages and the benefit of a lot of doubts, especially from prosecutors and judges but also from the public. This is partly because of the difference in consequences. For instance, Officer Yanez faced a potential 20-year sentence for manslaughter. When jurors make an award in a civil case, they know it won’t mean the officer goes to jail.”

Diamond Reynolds said she hoped the settlement would help her and her daughter to move on.

“While no amount of money can change what happened, bring Philando back, or erase the pain that my daughter and I continue to suffer, I do hope that closing this chapter will allow us to get our lives back and move forward,” she said in a statement, according to Minnesota Public Radio.

Reynolds was in the passenger seat of Castile’s Oldsmobile on July 6, 2016; her 4-year-old daughter was in the back seat. The interaction between officer and driver began calmly enough. But when Castile told Yanez he was carrying a gun, Yanez began shouting at him, and the officer’s dashcam shows Yanez firing several times into the car.

As Castile bled to death through his white T-shirt, Reynolds began streaming the scene live on Facebook. As Castile moans, Reynolds offers an account of the shooting. Yanez, screaming at her and still training his gun on her, argues with Reynolds about what happened.

Then Castile slumps toward her. “Oh my God,” she says, “please don’t tell me he’s dead. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that. … Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”

The payment to Reynolds still must be approved by a judge. Most of the money will come from the city of St. Anthony, but part will be paid by the nearby city of Roseville, whose police held Reynolds for questioning after the shooting.

For some, the failed prosecution of Yanez was a haunting reminder of the outcome of other, similar cases. Here are summaries of five, based on reports by CNN, the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, cleveland.com, nola.com and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Michael Brown, 18

Shot and killed by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014.

Armed? No. Wilson claimed the two grappled for Wilson’s gun, and said he believed his life was threatened.

Prosecution? A county grand jury declined to indict Wilson.

Settlement: $1.5 million from city’s insurance company to Brown’s parents, after they filed a wrongful death suit. Settlement announced in June.

Eric Garner, 43

Killed in a confrontation July 17, 2014, with New York City police, who believed he was illegally selling cigarettes. When Garner refused to be handcuffed, an officer put his arm around Garner’s neck and took him down. He is heard on a video saying, “I can’t breathe” 11 times before losing consciousness. He was dead on arrival at a hospital.

Armed? No.

Prosecution? A grand jury declined to indict the officer.

Settlement: City agreed in July 2015 to pay $5.9 million to settle the Garner estate’s lawsuit.

Tamir Rice, 12

Shot Nov. 22, 2014, by Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann.

Armed? He had a pellet gun (it has also been described as a replica, or toy) that he pointed at police. A 911 caller had said a “guy with a gun” was pointing the gun at people at a city rec center. The caller also noted that the guy was “probably a juvenile” and the gun was “probably fake.”

Prosecution? A grand jury declined to indict Loehmann in December 2015.

Settlement: The city agreed in April 2016 to pay Rice’s family $6 million to settle a federal lawsuit.

Note: Loehmann was fired in May for falsifying his application to the Cleveland Police Department.

Freddie Gray, 25

Died in April 2015, one week after his arrest by Baltimore police for carrying a knife in his pocket. Gray was placed in a police van and arrived at the station with a severe spinal injury. He lapsed into a coma and died a week later.

Armed? Yes, with the knife.

Prosecution? Six Baltimore police officers were indicted in Gray’s death. All had been suspended, and all were to be tried separately. The first case ended in a mistrial when the jury deadlocked; officers were acquitted in the next three trials, and the state then dropped charges against the remaining three officers.

Settlement: The city agreed to pay $6.4 million to settle all claims in the Gray case.

Alton Sterling, 37 

Sterling was shot and killed by Baton Rouge, La., police the day before Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota. A caller said he saw Sterling pointing a gun at someone outside the Triple S Food Mart. Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake responded. Cellphone video shows the officers taking Sterling down to the ground. One of the officers cried out,  “He’s got a gun!” and Sterling was shot repeatedly in the chest and back while still on the ground. 

Armed? A federal investigation found that Sterling was carrying a loaded .38-caliber revolver in his pocket, but investigators said it was impossible to tell from the videos whether he was reaching for it when he was shot.

Prosecution? After 10 months the U.S. Justice Department announced that it did not have sufficient evidence to pursue federal civil rights charges against the officers. The case was turned over to the Louisiana attorney general.

Settlement: Sterling’s five children filed a wrongful death action in June, but no resolution has been announced.