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The Minnesota police department whose officer shot and killed Philando Castile during a traffic stop last summer has agreed to a U.S. Department of Justice review that will identify, but not require, changes to the way its cops do their jobs.
The "collaborative reform" effort is different from the civil rights investigations that have followed other fatal police encounters in recent years in Baltimore; Ferguson, Missouri; and Cleveland, Ohio. This one began with an invitation from the St. Anthony police chief and leaders of the three Minnesota towns that the department's 25 officers patrol, and it won't come with the threat of a lawsuit or criminal investigation.
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Instead, the Justice Department's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) will send in analysts to suggest ways to improve the agency's approach to traffic stops, use of force and other practices. The recommendations will be released publicly, leaving it to local leaders to implement them.
"This should be seen as a positive, because I see now a community and a department that wants to make a difference," COPS Director Ronald Davis said.
The St. Anthony Police Department came under scrutiny after Officer Jeronimo Yanez shot Castile as he sat in the driver's seat of a car he'd pulled over while searching for a robbery suspect in the town of Falcon Heights, Minnesota on July 6.
Castile's fiancee, Diamond Reynolds, live-streamed the aftermath on Facebook, saying Castile told the officer he had a gun and was licensed to carry it, but was shot as he reached for his identification. Reynolds' 4-year-old daughter sat in a back seat through it all.
Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty. On Wednesday, his lawyer filed a court memo seeking to have the charges dismissed, claiming Castile was high on marijuana and therefore negligent in his own death, the Associated Press reported.
Similar COPS reviews have been done in San Francisco, Las Vegas and Philadelphia, and they are underway in several other cities, including Memphis, Milwaukee and North Charleston, South Carolina, where an officer fatally shot a man in the back following a traffic stop in April 2015.
St. Anthony is the smallest agency under review, and could become a model for small departments around the country, Davis said.