A Minnesota prosecutor announced on Wednesday, Sept. 8, that he will no longer prosecute felony cases resulting from minor traffic stops for violations.
Ramsey County Attorney in Minnesota Jon Choi told The Daily Beast, “I’m not going to do this anymore.” He made the announcement in honor of Philando Castile, who was killed by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop in 2016.
“I am not going to perpetuate these unjust practices that disproportionately impact my community,” Choi said.
Choi charged officer Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who shot Castile, although he was later acquitted by a jury.
Choi said that five years later, he still thinks about the fact that a traffic infraction was the cause of Castile’s deadly encounter with Yanez.
Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, praised the decision, saying the broken taillight that prompted the traffic stop involving her son was just an excuse to pull him over.
“You went from a simple traffic stop to a murder,” she said. “He ended up being murdered because of a broken taillight.”
On July 6, 2016, Castile, 32, was pulled over by Yanez. His girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were passengers in the car.
Yanez approached and said the vehicle’s brake light was out and asked for Castile’s license. The Black man, a veteran from dozens of police stops, told the officer he had a weapon in the car while reaching for his wallet, and Yanez told him not to reach for the gun. Castile and his girlfriend said he wasn’t as he tried to comply with the license request. Yanez then fired seven shots into the vehicle, fatally wounding Castile.
In 2017, Yanez was acquitted of one count of second-degree manslaughter and two counts of intentional discharge of firearm that endangers safety. He testified that he feared Castile was reaching for his gun.
The New York Times reported in 2016 that Castile had been pulled over 49 times in a 13-year period, or an average of once every three months, often for minor traffic infractions.
Choi believes officers make stops to fish for guns, drugs and an easy arrest and hopes his decision not to prosecute felony cases resulting from minor traffic stops for violations will reduce the number of unnecessary and potentially deadly encounters between officers and Black motorists.
According to a 2020 study by the Stanford Open Policing Project, Black people are 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers relative to their share of the population.
In some circles, Choi’s pledge has been met by backlash. Only about half of the chiefs in the county — which includes one of the Twin Cities, St. Paul — were willing to make changes in response to the decision.
Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Executive Director Brian Peters said in a statement on Facebook, “Basically, the county attorney just announced his office won’t uphold the law and won’t prosecute those who break it. That’s absurd, and is a slap in the face to victims of crime. Ramsey County residents be warned: those that break the law won’t even get a slap on the wrist — they’ll get a high-five from the county attorney and be left to commit more, and more serious offenses.”