The trial of Jeronimo Yanez is over and shook out the way I said it would. The officer was acquitted of criminal charges and separated from his job as a police officer. I don’t know whether he was fired or resigned or what the status of his peace officer license it at this time.
I have commented on this shooting on two previous occasions and see no need to revise or revisit my assessment. I predicted that the District Attorney would bring criminal charges and that the DA would have a tough time gaining a conviction.
To an experienced police officer, Yanez committed multiple errors. I suspect an all police jury would have voted for conviction, if not voluntary manslaughter, then involuntary manslaughter. The problem is that the errors, taken singly are not that egregious, but when each is built one upon the other, the tipping point is reached, and the result is virtually guaranteed. I suspect that the errors were so subtle that they were lost on both the jury and prosecutor.
A trip in the way back machine is in order here. In 1980, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) did a study of officer involved shootings covering a ten year period. They wanted to see if they could identify training, policy, equipment issues that emerged as common factors. They made judgments along the line of “good” shootings and “bad” shootings (without regard to policy).
NYPD was surprised to find out that officers involved in “good” shootings routinely violated one particular policy whereas officers involved in “bad” shootings followed that same policy.
NYPD policy, at the time, did not allow officers to unholster their weapon into a ready stance. The only reason to unholster a weapon was to fire it. Talk about the wild west! This meant that officers were confronting armed suspects, knowing they were armed suspects with their guns still holstered. In case you haven’t figured it out, it takes longer to draw and fire than it does to fire a gun already aimed. This meant officers acting within policy were already behind the readiness curve and were playing catch up. A suspect with a gun, candy bar, or Bible pointed at the officer was going to get shot. Officers who already had the guns out and pointed had an extra second or two to make a decision, and that made all the difference in the world. That policy didn’t apply to Yanez. Heck, that policy no longer binds NYPD. However, bad tactics, poor positioning, ineffective planning and poor communication had the same effect. When things went wrong, Yanez had no time to do other than he did.
Most police academies teach what is called the “seven step approach.” to traffic stops. It calls for: (1) Greetings and introduction, (2) reason for the stop, (3) clarification (emergency or other explanation) (4) explanation of planned action, (5) request for information (6) carrying out of action, (7) explanation and conclusion. Reading this the neophyte might conclude all traffic stops are the same; every traffic stop is unique. The application of sound tactics will carry the officer and violator through with minimum wear and tear.
The fact that Yanez thought there was a possibility that the driver he was contacting was potentially an armed robbery suspect and he approached in this manner, only confirms his incompetence. You want more about tactics read my previous entries.
The other factor, maybe the major one, is obvious on the audio portion of the tape and both parties were guilty. In my opinion what we have are two guys who are trying hard to be civil and polite to one another. They are so busy at it that neither is listening to the other. They may be talking, but they aren’t communicating.
I’ve been there, done that, got the T-shirt. “Sir checked you on radar 85/70, is there any emergency this morning? I need to see your driver’s license and proof of insurance.”
“I’ve got a concealed carry license, and I have a gun,” said the driver.
Me, “I see, do you intend to use that gun in the next five minutes?”
Absolute horror on the driver’s face, “What, no.”
“OK, leave the gun alone, I don’t want it, don’t need to see it, just include your CCL with your driver’s license and insurance.”
On other occasions, the conversation has gone like this, “Touch that fuckin gun and I’m gonna kill you motherfucker.”
In each case, I communicated in a manner that aided in understanding my wants and desires and created an atmosphere where the other party was anxious to comply. The onus is on the officer to ensure understanding. Just saying the words are not enough they need to be said, then restated, then rephrased, then repeated until the officer is satisfied that he has understanding and compliance or an aggressive act. By his poor position and his poor communication, Yanez ensured, in his mind, that he didn’t have the time to gain compliance.
It may sound like I am second guessing the jury. I am not. The jury arrived at a verdict with which they were comfortable. They did it based on individual experience and perceptions that they brought with them to the courtroom. Despite the rhetoric, this was not a cold-blooded murder, and the District Attorney didn’t charge it as such. The jury weighed the evidence and rendered a verdict. They did their job.
Yanez didn’t set out to hurt anybody that day when he climbed into his patrol car. Perhaps that is unfortunate because if Yanez had admitted to himself that today could be the day that he could be shot or shoot somebody else, he would have employed a whole different set of tactics. Had that been so, Castile might be alive today.