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Minnesota officer pleads not guilty in shooting death of black motorist

By Timothy Mclaughlin

(Reuters) - A Minnesota police officer pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter on Monday for the fatal shooting of a black motorist that sparked outrage when the moments that followed were broadcast on social media, according to a court official.

St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who according to media reports is Latino, entered a not guilty plea during a hearing at the Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, for the shooting death of Philando Castile, said Beau Berentson, spokesman for the state court administration office.

Castile, 32, was killed on July 6 in the St. Paul suburb of Falcon Heights during a traffic stop. The shooting, along with that of a black man by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the day before, fueled public debate in the United States over the use of excessive force by law enforcement.

Yanez's lawyer, Earl Gray, confirmed the plea but declined to comment further. A lawyer for the Castile family did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Starting about 40 seconds after the shooting, Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, streamed images of a bloody Castile on Facebook Live from the vehicle's passenger seat. The recording went viral on social media.

Yanez said he had reason to pull over the car because Castile looked like a suspect in a convenience store robbery that took place in the area four days earlier, court documents said. Castile's vehicle also had a broken brake light.

Yanez asked Castile for his license and insurance permit. Castile provided Yanez with his insurance permit and told the officer that he was carrying a firearm.

Yanez told Castile not to reach for his gun. Castile said he was not reaching for the gun before Yanez pulled his weapon and shot him seven times.

The exchange took just over a minute. Castile's permit to carry his gun was later found in his wallet.

Yanez later told investigators he feared for his life and believed Castile was reaching for his weapon, the complaint said.

Besides manslaughter, Yanez was also charged in November with two felony counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm that endangered the safety of Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter in the car.

He pleaded not guilty to these charges as well, Gray said.

If convicted of manslaughter, Yanez could serve almost five years in prison. His trial is scheduled to begin on May 30.

(Reporting by Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

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