A Minnesota county prosecutor said Friday he has appointed an outside attorney to help him decide whether to pursue criminal charges in the July 6 shooting death of a black man by a police officer.
Ramsey County chief prosecutor John Choi told reporters that he will bring in Don Lewis, a private attorney and former federal criminal prosecutor, to join his office’s deliberations on whether to file charges in the death of Philando Castile outright or delegate the decision to a grand jury.
“I have chosen to incorporate a special prosecutor into our team to provide independent perspective bolstered by the authority of this office,” Choi said at a news conference in St. Paul. “I’m not simply asking for his advice or approval. … Don will be an integral member of our team who will review this case with me.”
Choi’s decision is something of a compromise. He said the American Civil Liberties Union and an attorney for Castile’s family had been calling on him to hand off the decisions to a special prosecutor entirely to quell concerns over whether prosecutors can hold police in their own district accountable.
Choi said he thought giving the case entirely to a special prosecutor would be an abdication of his responsibility, so he decided to add Lewis — a man who helped lead the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers and has experience with federal civil rights cases — to his team.
Castile, 32, was shot during a traffic stop by St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights, authorities say. The shooting was widely publicized after Castile’s fiancée, sitting next to him in the vehicle he’d been driving, live-streamed the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook.
The incident, along with the July 5 shooting death by police of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, helped spark protests nationwide and renewed debate over the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve.
In the video, Castile’s fiancée says that the officer had pulled him over for a broken tail light, and that he had told the officer that he had a gun for which he had a concealed-carry permit.
She said he was reaching for his wallet when the officer shot him. The officer says in the video that he had “told him not to reach for it.”
Castile was pulled over at least 52 times since 2002, something protesters argue is a sign of racial profiling.
An attorney for Yanez told CNN that the shooting had nothing to do with race and everything to do with a gun being present at the scene.