Minnesota court affirms rejection of teaching license for ex-officer who shot Philando Castile

Published 6:26 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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ST. PAUL — A Minnesota board was justified when it rejected a substitute teaching license for a former police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in 2016, an appeals court ruled Monday.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the findings of the Minnesota Professional Educator Licensing and Standards Board, which concluded Jeronimo Yanez did not meet the moral standards required to teach in public schools.

The court had sent the case back to the licensing board in 2022 to reconsider its initial rejection of Yanez’s teaching license application, which was based on “immoral character or conduct.” The court said that reason was unconstitutionally vague and ordered the board to focus narrowly on whether Yanez’s conduct made him unfit to teach.

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The board then conducted further proceedings and denied his application a second time.

Yanez, a former St. Anthony police officer, shot Philando Castile during a traffic stop after Castile volunteered that he had a gun. Authorities later discovered that Castile, a 32-year-old St. Paul elementary school cafeteria worker, had a permit for the firearm. The case got widespread attention after Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car with her young daughter, began livestreaming the shooting’s aftermath on Facebook.

Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter. Castile’s death — which preceded the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose death at the hands of a white Minneapolis police officer in 2020 launched a nationwide reckoning on race — also led to massive public outcry and protests in Minnesota and beyond. Yanez quit law enforcement after his trial and eventually began teaching Spanish part-time at a parochial school.

In reconsidering Yanez’s license application, the board concluded Yanez racially profiled Castile when he stopped him, thinking he might be a robbery suspect, and said his decision to fire seven shots into the car not only killed Castile but endangered the lives of his girlfriend and her daughter.

The board found that those actions ran contrary to provisions of the ethics code for Minnesota teachers on nondiscrimination, exercising disciplinary authority and protecting students from harm.

On Monday, the appeals court said the board followed the proper legal standards this time and made its decision based on extensive evidence. Experts who testified included Joseph Gothard, superintendent of St. Paul Public Schools, who asserted Yanez’s prejudgments of Castile indicated bias and microaggressions that would be detrimental to students, especially students of color.

“Dr. Gothard questioned Yanez’s ability to meet the ethical demands for a diverse student population and opined that Yanez’s presence as a teacher in a Minnesota classroom poses a risk of retraumatizing students, staff, and families,” the appeals court noted.

Yanez’s attorney, Robert Fowler, said the board lacks any expertise on policing issues to draw any conclusions on whether Yanez should be allowed to teach.

“The licensing board cherry picked its findings to make biased conclusions,” Fowler said in an email. “Unfortunately, the court was not willing to take up these difficult political issues and instead just rubber stamped the agency’s decision. This whole case is further proof that issues surrounding police are not able to be decided in a fair and unbiased manner.”

The attorney said Yanez continues to teach at the parochial school.