Midwest Opinion: Amazing that body cams still aren't everywhere
Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez was found not guilty earlier this month, a year after he shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop in a northern Twin Cities suburb.
Video from the victim's girlfriend — captured as life slipped out of Castile moments after the shooting — was a national sensation. More recently, video taken from the dash of Yanez' police cruiser has been made public. It shows an agitated officer and, to some viewers, strengthens the case that the shooting was unjustified.
Video from a camera mounted on the officer's body — evidently because that particular police department has not provided body cameras.
We shake our heads that there are departments still delaying this inevitable and necessary expense. Body cameras aren't just a way to absolve officers from wrongdoing, but also to prove wrongdoing by police when it happens.
In the case of Castile, many feel he was unjustly killed by Yanez during the July 2016 traffic stop. Yanez pulled over Castile for a faulty brake light, but also because Yanez wanted to investigate whether Castile was a suspect in an armed robbery.
Shortly after Yanez approached Castile's vehicle, Castile announced he was legally carrying a firearm. On the cruiser dash camera from about 30 feet away, Yanez can be heard telling Castile, "Don't pull it out." Shortly thereafter, shots ring out. Castile's girlfriend then begins filming with her cellphone, saying in the video that Castile was only reaching for identification — as if that's proof enough that Castile didn't reach for the weapon the officer knew he had.
Public outcry has been great. Castile can be heard on the dash-cam video announcing he has a gun. Seconds after he was shot, he also can be heard on the cruiser dash cam telling the officer he wasn't reaching for a gun. The girlfriend's video, which begins after the shooting, seems to corroborate the story.
What's missing is video of those vital seconds after Yanez said "don't pull it out." Did Castile continue to reach after the officer told him not to? If so, it was a deadly mistake.
Video from a body camera might have solved this case.
Grand Forks police officers wear body cameras. So do officers from Devils Lake and some from East Grand Forks. A recent report in USA Today noted how technology continues to move forward and bring down costs, and that even an officer's cellphone now can be converted to a body camera that is easily and affordably used.
Body cameras aren't just for helping police avoid court cases; they also are for helping the public when an officer has done wrong.
It's possible Yanez acted improperly when he shot Castile. But given the circumstances and lack of evidence during those few vital seconds, we don't disagree with the jury's verdict.
Either way, more video could have made an airtight case for one side or the other.