MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced Friday that he will be bringing in Don Lewis as a special prosecutor in the Philando Castile case.
The attorney’s office made the announcement at a press conference in St. Paul shortly before 10 a.m.
Choi says Lewis — a former federal prosecutor and Hamline Law dean — will help enhance his team, and determine whether or not charges should be filed or if it needs to be turned over to a grand jury to decide.
“I’ve not come to this decision lightly nor do I expect that this decision will satisfy all of the concerns raised by some members of our community,” Choi said.
Choi said it was important to choose a special prosecutor who has no ties to law enforcement in Ramsey County and has no personal or professional ties to the case.
Watch the full press conference below:
“This independent perspective can only enhance the integrity and legitimacy of our decisions in this case,” Choi said. “This is ultimately what justice requires.”
Choi says Lewis will play a “critical” role in the case and is not just being brought in to be a consultant. Choi says his role will be similar to an assistant county attorney.
Lewis spoke at the press conference where he talked about his family roots in Ramsey County and called the Castile shooting a “tragedy.”
“My hope, whatever the outcome, is that my work with John’s office will earn the trust and confidence of the residents of Ramsey County and of the State of Minnesota,” Lewis said. “And especially the trust and confidence of those who today expect the least and fear the worst from our criminal justice system.”
Lewis graduated from Harvard Law School and spent the following decade working for the U.S. Department of Justice, working on civil rights cases in the south. He then returned to Minneapolis and worked for nearly 7 years as a federal criminal prosecutor. He has since spent 28 years in a private practice, which includes criminal defense.
Castile, a 32-year-old lunch room worker, was shot by St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez in Falcon Heights during a July 6 traffic stop.
Yanez’s attorney said the officer was reacting to seeing the gun, while Castile’s girlfriend said he was shot while reaching for his ID after telling the officer he had a gun permit and was armed. She streamed the aftermath of the shooting live on Facebook, which went viral.
The Minneapolis NAACP responded to the Friday announcement, saying it disagreed with Choi’s decision.
“Mr. Choi seems to be trying to have it both ways–retaining his authority over the case while being endorsed by a ‘special prosecutor.’ Despite what Mr. Choi and headlines are calling it, the role described for Mr. Lewis is not that of an independent special prosecutor at all,” the statement said.
The NAACP called for a “true independent special prosecutor,” arguing that “because County Attorneys in Minnesota work closely with local police to prosecute cases, there is an unavoidable conflict of interest in having them also investigate incidents when police kill the civilians they swore to serve and protect.”
Judge Hatchett, the Castile family attorney, spoke to WCCO about the decision.
“At the end of the day, we want to make sure this is a thorough investigation,” she said. “There is transparency and that justice will be served in the matter of Mr. Castile.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting and the case has yet to be presented to the attorney’s office.