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Special prosecutor to help decide on charges in Philando Castile shooting

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Posted at 12:32 PM, Jul 29, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-29 12:32:07-04

A Minnesota county prosecutor said Friday he has appointed a special prosecutor to help him decide whether to file 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, if not, whether to delegate the decision to a grand jury.

“Don has not merely been retained as a consultant. I’m not simply asking for his advice or approval,” Choi said in a news conference in St. Paul. “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.