Special prosecutor named in Philando Castile shooting

ST. PAUL -- A prominent Minneapolis attorney will serve as a special prosecutor to help weigh criminal charges in a police officer's killing of a black St. Paul man.

ST. PAUL -- A prominent Minneapolis attorney will serve as a special prosecutor to help weigh criminal charges in a police officer’s killing of a black St. Paul man.

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Don Lewis, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis, will bring “fresh eyes and and independent perspective” as Choi’s office decides whether the police officer who fatally shot  Philando Castile will face prosecution.

The appointment stops short of calls from some civil rights advocates to turn over the decision altogether to an independent prosecutor. Choi will retain authority over the case.

He said it’s important for his office to handle the case because it’s ultimately his responsibility to be accountable.

“That is what I signed up for when I took this job,” he said.


He said he is still deciding whether he’ll make the decision himself or use a grand jury. Lewis will be deeply involved in handling the case in the same capacity as an assistant Ramsey County prosecutor, Choi said.

Lewis, who is black and a co-founder and board member of the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, said he hopes whatever the outcome of the case, “my work with John’s office will earn the trust” of the public.

“We all understand the anguish and outrage that many of our residents feel” at the death of a black man at the hands of police, he said.

A St. Anthony police officer shot and killed Castile, 32, on July 6 during a traffic stop in the Twin Cities suburb of Falcon Heights. His girlfriend livestreamed the immediate aftermath on Facebook.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Wednesday that the investigation was ongoing and that the agency would present its findings to the Ramsey County attorney’s office to consider charges.

Choi said the BCA hasn’t given “any specific timelines” on the case. He noted that the investigation of the killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police, another high-profile case handled by the BCA, took more than four months before Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the decision not to bring charges.

“I’m not saying the timelines are going to be similar,” Choi said. “I’m just providing you that information for some frame of reference.”

The Castile family attorney and the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota have called for a special prosecutor to be appointed.


“Sadly, Americans have seen way too many versions of this story play out in headlines around the country lately,” said Chuck Samuelson, ACLU executive director, in a statement on July 13. “The people of Minnesota deserve to know the truth, and that is more likely to happen if an independent prosecutor is appointed to take an impartial look at the facts.”

In the past, Choi has always used a grand jury to decide whether to prosecute in officer-involved shootings. But that practice has been criticized in recent years by those calling for more police oversight - who say grand juries typically just do what prosecutors want anyway and offer them political cover.

A grand jury consists of 23 randomly selected county residents. To indict, 12 members must agree, and the proceedings are secret.

During the Clark case, Freeman decided not to use a grand jury.

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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