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Crime

Minnesota Officer Acquitted in Killing of Philando Castile

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MITCH SMITH

ST. PAUL — The images had transfixed people around the world: A woman live-streaming the aftermath of a police shooting of her boyfriend, Philando Castile, and narrating the searing, bloody scene that was unfolding around her.

On Friday, a jury here acquitted the Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of all charges in shooting, which happened in July 2016 and left Mr. Castile dead, raising the national debate over police conduct toward black people. Officer Yanez, an officer for the suburb of St. Anthony, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm in the shooting.

The verdict was announced in a tense courtroom here late Friday afternoon, after five days of deliberations, and the officer was led quickly out of the courtroom, as were the 12 jurors. Mr. Castile’s family, which had nervously watched the proceedings from the front row, abruptly left as well.

“My son loved this city, and this city killed my son,” Mr. Castile’s mother, Valerie, said as she stood on a corner outside the courthouse afterward. “And a murderer gets away. Are you kidding me right now?”

The case against Officer Yanez — believed to be the first time in Minnesota history that an officer was charged in an on-duty fatal shooting — hinged on one central question: Did the officer have reason to fear that Mr. Castile was reaching for a gun that he had acknowledged having with him when he was pulled over by the officer?

Officer Yanez testified that he feared Mr. Castile was grabbing for the gun, but Mr. Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, said he had merely been reaching for his identification to give the officer.

Though there was dashboard camera video of the events, as well as the live-stream video that Ms. Reynolds began taking after the shooting, there was no video clearly revealing the crucial moments in the front seat of Mr. Castile’s car — and how precisely he had moved his hands before the officer fired.

The shooting set off large marches across the twin cities and, at one point, blocked off a major highway. It drew notice from President Barack Obama, as well as the governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, who asked aloud: “Would this have happened if the driver were white, if the passengers were white?”

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, arriving in court last week. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP)

On Friday, as news of the acquittal filtered out, a small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse, expressing anger and dismay. “It’s not us that were on trial, it was the system that was on trial,” said Mel Reeves, a community activist.

Later in the evening, protesters gathered at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul to express their displeasure with the verdict. The police estimated that 1,500 people set off from there on a march, causing traffic backups and transit delays.

Mike Padden, a lawyer representing Ms. Reynolds, said he was surprised and disappointed by the verdict. “For those who are committed to the idea of leveling the playing field with law enforcement and the citizenry, it’s a big blow,” he said.

John J. Choi, the prosecutor who announced the charges against Officer Yanez, said on Friday that “this verdict brings a lot of hurt and pain and deep-seated frustration for a lot of people in this community.” Mr. Choi said he was disappointed in the verdict, and believed that Mr. Castile “did nothing that justified the taking of his life.”

“We gave it our best shot,” said Mr. Choi, the Ramsey County attorney. “We really did.”

The acquittal was the latest example of charges against an officer, but not a conviction. In recent years, officers in Cleveland, Pennsylvania and Tulsa, Okla., have been found not guilty of manslaughter. Elsewhere, including Cincinnati and South Carolina, jurors have deadlocked on charges after a fatal shooting and failed to deliver any verdict at all.

Among some advocates for police officers, the outcome was met with approval.

Earl Gray, a lawyer for Officer Yanez, said he was gratified with the outcome, but frustrated that charges were ever brought.

“The state didn’t have a case in the first place,” Mr. Gray said in an interview on Friday evening after the acquittal. “But because of the protests and the political pressure, I suppose you’d call it, he was charged and he had to go into court and defend himself.”

Mr. Gray said Officer Yanez was “still very shook up” after the verdict, but “extremely happy it’s over.”

“He wants to get on with his life,” Mr. Gray said.

As the officer left the courtroom, Judge William H. Leary III had said, “Mr. Yanez, you will now be excused from this matter with no further obligation to this court. Good luck to you.”

Officer Jeronimo Yanez. (David Joles/Star Tribune via AP, File)

Despite the verdict, though, officials with the city of St. Anthony, where Officer Yanez has worked for several years, issued a statement late Friday saying that they had “concluded that the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.” They said they planned to offer him a “voluntary separation agreement.” In the meantime, the city said, he will not be returning to patrol.

Through a week of testimony in the trial, the case had centered chiefly on the conflicting accounts of what Mr. Castile, a longtime school cafeteria worker whom Officer Yanez had pulled over for a broken taillight at twilight on a summer evening, was doing before he was shot.

Prosecutors said Officer Yanez had created a dangerous situation, perceived a threat where none existed and, in addition to killing Mr. Castile, almost wounded Ms. Reynolds and her young daughter in the back seat.

“He was making assumptions and jumping to conclusions without engaging in the dialogue he was trained to have in a citizen encounter like this,” Jeffrey Paulsen, a prosecutor, said in closing arguments. “And that’s his fault, not the fault of Philando Castile.”

Mr. Castile was licensed to carry a gun and was recorded on a dashboard camera video calmly telling Officer Yanez that he had a weapon in the car. Officer Yanez told him not to reach for the weapon, and Mr. Castile and Ms. Reynolds both tried to assure the officer that he was not doing so. Within seconds, Officer Yanez fired seven shots.

Prosecutors said Mr. Castile had mentioned his gun to allay concerns, not to threaten the officer or escalate the situation. “If someone were just about to reach in their pocket and pull out a gun and shoot an officer, that’s the last thing they would say,” Mr. Paulsen said.

Mr. Gray, the defense lawyer, said Officer Yanez had to react quickly to what he believed was an imminent threat. He said Officer Yanez smelled marijuana, believed that Mr. Castile matched the description of a recent robbery suspect and saw him grabbing a gun.

“We have him ignoring his commands. He’s got a gun. He might be the robber. He’s got marijuana in his car,” Mr. Gray told jurors. “Those are the things in Officer Yanez’s head.”

Officer Yanez did not tell Mr. Castile about the robbery suspicions, only that his brake light was out. But Mr. Gray said that this approach made sense, and that Officer Yanez had acted reasonably given his training and what he knew that night.

“He did what he had to do,” Mr. Gray said, adding that the situation was “tragic.”

The jury of 12, including two black people, had to sort through the competing narratives. Both prosecutors and defense lawyers said the video footage supported their version of events.

At Officer Yanez’s trial, in this small courtroom in downtown St. Paul, defense lawyers made repeated mention of Mr. Castile’s and Ms. Reynolds’s use of marijuana. The drug was found in Mr. Castile’s car after the shooting, and Mr. Gray said that Mr. Castile had been under the influence of marijuana and delayed in his reactions at the time of the shooting.

“We’re not saying that Philando Castile was going to shoot Officer Yanez,” Mr. Gray said. “What we’re saying is that he did not follow orders. He was stoned.”

But Mr. Paulsen, the prosecutor, said that version of events was contradicted by video. He said footage showed that Mr. Castile was driving normally, pulled over quickly and was alert and courteous when talking to Officer Yanez. He accused the defense of blaming the victim.

“He offered no resistance,” Mr. Paulsen said of Mr. Castile. “He made no threats. He didn’t even complain about being stopped for such a minor offense.”

Crime

Somali-American girls battle families to send Portland molester to prison

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Defendant Hassan Noor was led out the Multnomah County Circuit courtroom in handcuffs by a sheriff's deputy on Dec. 12, 2017. Noor is scheduled to be sentenced in February. (Aimee Green/The Oregonian)

The intense pressure to keep quiet began almost immediately after four girls reported that they’d been molested by a well-known member of their community: You’re lying. Take it back. Change your stories.

Two of the four girls did.

But after a trial last month, a Portland judge found Hassan Mohamedhaji Noor – a 46-year-old married father of six and member of the local Somali immigrant community — guilty of sexual abuse, including for targeting the two girls who recanted.

In a strongly worded statement, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Leslie Roberts made clear that the urge to hide abuse by squelching the voices of victims happens in all kinds of settings, not just within a Portland immigrant community that numbers about 8,000.

“It is familiar in the history and reality of many communities near to home and far from it,” Roberts said.

Child sex abuse is a relatively common crime. An estimated one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

But child abuse experts say most cases go unreported for some of the very reasons two of the young women in this case may have felt compelled to back down. Victims fear they won’t be believed and often are embarrassed to talk about what happened.

They’re also concerned that the person who abused them will carry out threats to hurt them or they worry that their family or community will ostracize them. Some even feel guilt over sending someone they once liked to prison. One victim also that in her Somali-American community, girls and women were made to feel like they couldn’t speak out against men.

The four-day trial opened a rare window into this maelstrom of emotions as Noor’s crimes and the vigorous campaign to cover them up were aired in open court.

The trial also came at a time of national reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse, beginning with the explosive allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and followed by accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of high-profile men in politics, media and entertainment.

The judge didn’t cite the current climate but she did single out a culture of silence and said she believed the girls’ families were among those pushing hard for them to retract their statements.

They valued the “fraudulent appearance of propriety” over the importance of protecting women or children, she said. The judge explained that it was her job to see past that to uphold her court’s commitment to justice.

‘IT’S A SENSE OF DENIAL’

Noor was a respected member of Portland’s Somali-American community – known as a loving father and husband and a devout Muslim who prayed five times a day. He supported his large family by working full-time as a Lyft driver.

He was a success story – a man who immigrated from Somalia about 20 years ago and built a life for himself from scratch.

The allegations against Noor surfaced months or years ago – when each of the four girls confided in trusted adults.

They described a similar set of circumstances leading up to the abuse: Noor would have them massage his legs, work their way up to his thighs and ultimately touch his genitals when they were as young as 12 or 13, they said.

Each also said they were urged to say nothing. They told investigators that family members and community members claimed that speaking about the abuse would bring shame to them and their families. That no men would want to marry them after learning they’d been. That it was up to Allah to decide Noor’s punishment.

The girls didn’t talk to police until last year for various reasons.

The Oregonian/OregonLive generally doesn’t name victims of sexual abuse and isn’t describing how Noor knew the girls to protect their identities.

When Noor was arrested in March, news quickly spread through his community.

The accusations were so disturbing that some people simply couldn’t believe them, said Musse Olol, president of the Somali American Council of Oregon.

“It’s a sense of denial — just like with any shameful act, any criminal act, anything bad that the community wished did not happen but sometimes happens,” Olol said.

But Olol said he told people to let the court system handle the case, and he condemned the abuse.

“This is not something the community condones, or thinks is acceptable at all,” he said.

CASE FACES UPHILL BATTLE

Although the prosecution’s case against Noor seemed straightforward in the beginning, it grew more complicated when Noor’s two youngest victims – now ages 16 and 18 – recanted.

Compounding matters, although the two other victims stood by their stories, Noor was indicted for sexually abusing only one of them. That’s because the statute of limitations had passed for the oldest one, now 23. She was allowed to testify, but Noor couldn’t be convicted of abusing her.

On the opening day of trial, a standing-room-only crowd of members of the Somali community filled the courtroom gallery. The 16-year-old took the stand first.

Deputy District Attorney Amber Kinney chose her words carefully. She knew the girl had changed her story. She needed to get the teen’s original statements on the record.

Kinney played a 911 recording of the girl — the call that had set the case in motion nine months earlier.

“I was molested,” the girl can be heard saying, before stating that it was Noor and describing the abuse.

The prosecutor stopped the recording. “Who was that calling 911?” Kinney asked.

“Sounds like my voice, but I was lying,” the girl responded.

The prosecutor noted that the girl also repeatedly told her story to others: a patrol officer, a child abuse investigator with the Oregon Department of Human Services, a police detective and ultimately a grand jury.

But the girl offered a startling explanation: She had been under the influence of “black magic.”

“I wasn’t in my right state of mind,” she said on the witness stand. “It is as if I wasn’t speaking myself.”

The 18-year-old who recanted also testified that she, too, had been controlled by black magic. She now insisted that Noor had never touched her – that she’d slept over at Noor’s house to visit with his children many times over the years without incident. She said Noor was a good man.

The prosecutor contrasted the young woman’s testimony to her statements at a recorded interview earlier this year with child abuse investigators.

“Do you remember saying that you hate him so much?” Kinney asked.

“I don’t hate him,” the young woman said.

Kinney asked her whether her mother was in the courtroom watching her testimony.

“Right there, behind you,” the young woman answered.

The prosecutor asked: Was there anyone else she knows in the courtroom?

“I see my auntie, my cousin, uncle, grandpa,” she responded. But she said they weren’t there to pressure her to keep quiet. Instead, she said, “They all came for Hassan, and us. To support us.”

‘DON’T TELL ANYONE ANYTHING’

The two other young women testified that they had refused to change their stories even though their families disowned them.

The most emotional account came from the 20-year-old, who said Noor repeatedly made her touch his genitals when she was 11. She told her parents after encountering him trying to molest one of her siblings, she said.

She said her parents distanced the family from Noor, but didn’t call police. She said she remembers her father telling her that the abuse could never be reported.

“He basically started crying,” she said. “And he was like, ‘I know what (Noor) did to you was wrong, but, you know, what can I do? What can I do? Your reputation is going to be ruined if I say something, if I fight him.’”

She said a few years later, her parents forgave Noor, and he was allowed to be around her again. The abuse resumed, she said, this time with Noor approaching her from behind and pressing himself against her.

“In the Somali community, the men have more power than the women,” she said. “…The girl, she is supposed to suffer. She is supposed to be quiet and just bear what happened to her.”

She eventually ran away from home and several years ago told workers at a Portland youth shelter about the abuse. According to court papers, workers with the state Department of Human Services investigated by interviewing her, but it’s unclear if they spoke to Noor. They didn’t notify police, and closed the case for lack of evidence, according to court records.

This past spring, police spoke to the young woman, and she willingly took the stand at the trial.

“So justice shall be served,” she said. “That man is the man who ruined my life.”

She said she hasn’t been able to attend school and quit her job because of stress. She also said she and her parents are no longer speaking. Both of them testified that she was dishonest.

‘ONLY AN ANIMAL WOULD DO SUCH A THING’

Noor didn’t testify. But he told Portland police Detective Nathan Tobey during a recorded interview that all of the allegations against him were made up, according to the detective’s testimony.

Tobey said Noor claimed that Somali women come to the U.S. knowing they can have power over men by conjuring up false stories of being beaten, inappropriately touched or raped. Noor said it was impossible that a Muslim man like himself could have molested children.

“He said, ‘Only an animal would do such a thing,’” Tobey said. “He said … ‘Only a person without religion could do such a thing.’”

Tobey said Noor explained that at least one of the girls had stopped praying five times a day and evil had taken hold of her.

Noor is scheduled to be sentenced in February.

He faces a minimum prison term of 6 ¼ years if he serves the sentences at the same time. But he also could get a maximum of more than 68 years — 6 ¼ years for each of the 11 charges of first-degree sexual abuse against him.

As Roberts announced her verdict, Noor revealed no visible emotion. As deputies handcuffed him and led him out of the courtroom, he smiled slightly and shrugged at the crowd of spectators who gathered around him.

Some of them could face criminal repercussions in the case.

Prosecutors said they’re investigating the possibility of charging adults in the victims’ lives with the felony crime of tampering with a witness, based on the allegation that they tried to silence the young women.

— Aimee Green

agreen@oregonian.com

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Canada

Fatouma Alyaan asked Canadian PM  ‘Why are you deporting my brother?

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Question: Abdoul Abdi’s sister Fatouma Alyaan asked ‘Why are you deporting my brother?…My question to you is if it was your son, would you do anything to stop this?’

PM: As far as I know there hasn’t been any final decisions made yet.. It’s something we have to reflect on with compassion and with empathy and understanding on a case-by-case basis…We need to continue to support welcoming people from around the world but the way we continue to believe in our immigration system is to know that our immigration system is strong and rigorous and fairly applied. That there are rules and there is a framework and it goes through the evaluation process and political pressure or arbitrary decisions based on popularity or pressure..shouldn’t be at the heart of our immigration system. We have a system that is based on rules and principles but that also is compassionate and reflects on individual cases…We will do what Canada always does and try to do the right thing based on both rules and compassion not just for your brother but for everyone who comes to this country.

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Crime

Southall shooting: Man charged with murder of Khalid Abdi Farah

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Detectives investigating the shooting of 26-year-old Khalid Farah in Southall have charged a 21-year-old man.

Malique Thompson-Hill was charged with murder on Sunday (December 3), the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

Mr Farah was fatally shot in the chest while he was sat in a Ford Focus car in Lady Margaret Road on November 11.

London Ambulance Service attended the scene and the victim was taken to a central London hospital where he died at 3.32am.

Following his death, Crimestoppers announced a reward of up to £10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

In a statement, his family said: “Khalid was such an amazing son, brother and nephew.

“We can’t stress enough how distraught we are that our beautiful boy was taken away from us.”

The family statement added: “He was a kind and lovable soul who made an impression with everyone he would meet.”

Mr Thompson-Hill was due to appear at Ealing Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

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