The Minnesota Court of Appeals has ruled that a state board must review its denial of a teaching license for the ex-police officer who killed Philando Castile.
Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Castile, a beloved school cafeteria worker, in 2016 during a traffic stop in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
Yanez was charged and later acquitted of manslaughter and weapons charges in 2017. He left the St. Anthony police department shortly after. Yanez applied to be a substitute teacher in 2020, but the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board denied his request because of “immoral character or conduct.”
However, the appeals court ruled Monday that the board must consider how Yanez’s actions specifically “violated moral standards for the teaching profession.” The board must also shy away from including policing practices as immoral, The Associated Press reports.
“The board’s decision must focus exclusively on Yanez’s conduct and his fitness to be a teacher, not fitness to be a police officer,” the appeals court ruled.
Yanez fired seven shots at Castile 13 seconds after the Black man told him he had a licensed firearm. Yanez told investigators that he was in fear for his life. Police dash cam shows Castile ensured the officer that he would not reach for the gun after Yanez told him not to. Five of the shots hit Castile, two of them in the heart.
Castile’s last words before going unconscious were: “I wasn’t reaching for it.”
Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, live-streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook that took place in front of her 4-year-old daughter.
Yanez told investigators that it was dark inside the vehicle. He later testified in court that he saw the gun in Castile’s hand before he “engaged him.”
The shooting sparked national and internal outrage. Many questioned if Yanez would’ve shot Castile if he had been white.
Jurors ultimately agreed that the state could not prove without a reasonable doubt that the officer was negligent or reckless in the shooting.
“It just came down to us not being able to see what was going on in the car,” one of the jurors told MPR News. “Some of us were saying that there was some recklessness there, but that didn’t stick because we didn’t know what escalated the situation: was he really seeing a gun? We felt [Yanez] was an honest guy … and in the end, we had to go on his word, and that’s what it came down to.”
As his verdict was announced in early June 2017, St. Anthony city officials announced that “the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.”
His acquittal prompted days of protests in the city, drawing thousands of people.
Reports show Yanez received a $48,500 separation package from the city. He was teaching Spanish at a parochial school when he applied for a teaching license in 2020. The license board’s disciplinary committee reportedly reviewed the officer’s case and recommended that the license be rejected.
Yanez first appealed the decision to an administrative-law judge.
St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Gothard told the judge that Yanez’s actions hurt and offended the community. At the same time, an expert who testified for Yanez said his use of force was reasonable.
The administrative-law judge denied the application, finding that Yanez profiled Castile as a robbery suspect because of his “wide-set nose.”
The traffic stop stemmed from “racial bias, microaggressions, and negativity bias that are detrimental to students, especially students of color,” and the former officer could not prove that the shooting was necessary or reasonable, the judge said.
Yanez argued to the appeals court that the board’s final reason for his license denial, “immoral character or conduct,” was unconstitutionally vague. The court, ruling in favor of Yanez, concluded that immorality could be interpreted based on individual discretion, but it could withstand constitutional challenges if narrowed to “relate to professional morals in the occupation of teaching.”
Yanez’s attorney, Robert Fowler, told The Associated Press in a statement that the licensing board’s decision was unequivocally wrong, and Yanez is pleased with the appeals court’s decision.
“My client’s priority now is moving on to the next chapter in his life in peace and privacy,” Fowler said.
Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, said, however, that children may feel uncomfortable or even fearful with Yanez in their classrooms, especially children of color.
“We have to think about those children and the trauma they suffered because of what he did,” she said.
Hundreds of online commenters also expressed concern about Yanez’s potential to teach young students.
“I wouldn’t want that kind of person around my kids,” one user said.
“Just because the law let him off the hook doesn’t mean the rest of us have to,” another user wrote. “Sure, he has rights, just like we do, to exclude him everywhere he goes till the day he croaks.”
“Why do you force the issue where it’s clear no one wants you there? You think you’ll have a collegial atmosphere after you did that?” a third user wrote.