Ramsey County ending prosecuting most felony cases which started as low-level traffic stops

Philando castile memorial
FALCON HEIGHTS, MN - JULY 06: A banner with Philando Castile's face on it is placed at the site where he was killed during a vigil on July 6, 2020 in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. Castile was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Jeronimo Yanez, an officer with the St. Anthony Police Department, four years ago on July 6, 2016.(Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images) Photo credit Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

Ramsey County will no longer prosecute most felony cases that start as low-level equipment violation traffic stops.

County Attorney John Choi said his feelings have changed over time and after conversations with organizations and community members.

"This is not about winning an argument. It's about recognizing that the end result is unjust and that we need to make changes," he said.

It was also the memory of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez in 2016 when he was pulled over for a broken taillight.

"I've had a long journey of what justice is and should be in our community," Choi said. "I was the prosecutor that prosecuted Jeronimo Yanez and that case, I will tell you, changed me profoundly. I'm a very different person and I see the world in a different way after that."

So far five police chiefs of nine in Ramsey County have embraced the change, according to Choi. St. Paul Chief Todd Axtell directed officers in a memo Wednesday to focus on traffic enforcement that reduces crashes and deaths.

However, the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association and state Republicans have blasted the decision saying it gives criminals free rein, something Choi refutes.

"It's those values that got us into, as a country, our mass incarceration crisis, the safety that many people don't experience in our communities and it's also yielding lots of racial disparity in our justice system," Choi said.

The St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation is creating a new Ramsey County Public Safety Fund to support research to become a model for other counties as well as assist low-income motorists take care of repairs.