Philando Castile family reaches nearly $3 million settlement with city for fatal traffic stop
ST. ANTHONY, Minn. - The mother of Philando Castile has reached a nearly $3 million settlement with the city of St. Anthony over all civil claims related to the fatal shooting of her son by one of the city’s police officers during a traffic stop last summer.
The agreement was announced Monday morning, June 26, in conjunction with the city. It was negotiated by Valerie Castile’s attorneys, Robert Bennett and Glenda Hatchett.
The settlement allows the Castile family to avoid filing a wrongful-death civil rights lawsuit and the long and painful legal process that can come with it, Bennett said.
“I think she was resigned to do it,” Bennett said of Valerie Castile. “She obviously approved it. The trial was very hard on her and her family, and I’m sure that was one of the reasons they wanted this behind them.”
No amount of money can lessen the family’s grief over Philando Castile’s death, Bennett added. But the money will help Valerie Castile pursue the aims of her foundation, the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, according to a joint statement released by her attorneys and the city of St. Anthony.
The nonprofit's mission is to help victims of gun violence, according to its Facebook page.
Castile, a 32-year-old lunchroom supervisor at a St. Paul elementary school, was shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights last summer by former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez.
Yanez, who is Latino, pulled Castile, who is black, over for a broken taillight but also said he suspected Castile may have been involved in a recent armed robbery. He fired seven bullets into the car shortly after Castile told him, “Sir, I have to tell you, I do have a firearm on me.”
On June 16, Yanez was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter in Castile’s death after saying on the witness stand at trial that he saw Castile gripping his gun despite the officer’s commands not to reach for it. He fired, Yanez testified, out of fear for his life.
Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old child were also in the car at the time of the shooting. Reynolds testified that Castile was trying to access his wallet so he could hand over the driver’s license the officer had just requested seconds before the shooting.
Castile, who was wearing his seatbelt at the time, was shot five times and died. He had a license to carry his firearm but hadn’t disclosed that to Yanez before the shooting.
“You lose a child and you are going to be grieving that for the rest of your life,” Bennett said. “But the litigation process doesn’t help Val or the extended family and it doesn’t really help the city, which at least seems to be committed to transforming its police department. … So this puts some closure to everything.”
Joe Flynn, an attorney hired to represent the city of St. Anthony on the settlement negotiations, said the parties had been working toward this resolution for a couple of months.
While he wasn't sure if it was the largest civil settlement paid out on the city's behalf, he said it was certainly its largest settlement related to police conduct.
He added that the agreement was in the best interest of all parties.
"Certainly, it's a lot of money, so it's hard from that standpoint ... but this could have gone on for many years and just for the sake of the community and the Castile family we think it made sense to resolve it now."
The settlement, which still requires state court approval, will be paid through the city’s coverage with the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, according to the joint statement.
The statement goes on to say that the involved parties were motivated to move “expeditiously” so that everyone involved, including Valerie Castile and the residents of St. Anthony, can “allow the process of healing to move forward.”
Bennett, who has a long track record with federal lawsuits, said the settlement amount was fair considering the size of St. Anthony and the landscape of other police misconduct payouts he’s seen take place across the state.
It's larger than the record-setting police misconduct settlement the city of St. Paul agreed to in March with a man who was beaten and bitten by police forces last year. Frank Baker received a $2 million settlement after a K-9 police dog savaged his leg, and another officer kicked him, breaking seven of his ribs and collapsing his lung. It was the largest settlement in the city’s history for police misconduct.
“St. Anthony has about 8,400 people and once you know what they have for insurance limits, it’s helpful in understanding what they are able to pay,” Bennett said.
He referenced a recent settlement he helped negotiate for the family of Dawn Marie Pfister, who was shot along with her boyfriend by a Chaska police officer after a high-speed car chase on U.S. 212 about two years ago.
In that case, the city agreed to a $1.75 million settlement. In that case, the League of Minnesota Cities covered only $1.5 million; the remaining $250,000 was paid by the city.
“A lot of times you will see a settlement in that range for an adult with no children,” Bennett said. “Minnesota is not this huge place. … It’s not like Cleveland or Baltimore. This is Lake Wobegon country and little cities within that are harder to target in terms of settlements.”
St. Anthony’s insurance policy allows for a maximum payout of $3 million, he added. The settlement reached for Valerie Castile is $2.995 million.
Bennett estimated he and Hatchet would receive about a third of that amount to cover their combined attorney's fees.
Hatchett has been the attorney in touch with Valerie Castile about the settlement, Bennett said.
A spokeswoman for Hatchett said Valerie Castile did not wish to make any additional comments beyond what was included in the joint statement.
Corydon Nilsson, formerly of Black Lives Matter of St. Paul and now the founder of New North, said he doesn't want there to be any illusions about the significance of the settlement.
"While I do think this is a nice gesture and is the right thing to do, the thing that the family wants is for Philando to be alive, and he is not alive," Nilsson said. "No amount of money will bring him back."
He also said he understands why Valerie Castile didn't want to wade through more legal proceedings.
"I don't blame mama Valerie for not wanting to go to court because those things get dragged out and it just sucks the life right out of you," Nilsson continued. "I know she has big plans for that foundation, and now she can get that ball rolling."
St. Anthony offered Yanez a “voluntary separation agreement” shortly after he was acquitted at trial and said he would no longer be working for the city’s police department.
“The important work of healing our community continues,” the city said in its statement. “The City of St. Anthony Village reaffirms its commitment to transforming its police department in partnership with the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services. Through the Collaborative Reform Initiative, the City and residents are working to improve trust between the police department and the communities it serves.”
Tad Vezner contributed to this report.