Minnesota public safety officials updated the state’s driver’s manual to give motorists who are legally carrying firearms some guidance on what to do if they are stopped by police, including instructions to keep both hands on the steering wheel while telling the officer of the gun’s location.
The change was announced on July 6, four years after Philando Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop after he told an officer he had a gun. His mother, Valerie Castile, pushed for the change two years ago when she saw Arizona had updated its driver’s manual to include the additional information.
After phone calls to other states and discussion with both community members and law enforcement, she called Monday’s announcement “bittersweet.”
“We’re talking about 1,461 days that I have not seen my son, have not touched my son, have not kissed my son, and it brings delight that the Department of Public Safety has re-updated the drivers manual because this little tidbit is very, very important,” she said. “That bit of information can save lots of lives.”
Minnesota’s driver’s manual had already provided direction for motorists stopped by law enforcement, but the new language details what someone should or should not do when informing an officer they are legally carrying a firearm.
The manual now instructs drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel during a traffic stop as the officer approaches. Drivers should tell the officer they have a gun, its location within the car while keeping their hands on the steering wheel, and refrain from reaching around the car without telling the officer first, the updated manual says.
The change also describes what motorists should expect from police. Drivers should expect officers to identify themselves as law enforcement and give the reason for the stop. In addition to asking for a driver’s license and registration, officers may ask to take possession of the gun for the duration of the traffic stop, according to the manual.
“If we all know what to expect during a traffic stop that’s going to be a lot better for all of us, but we should all expect respect,” said Booker Hodges, DPS assistant commissioner of law enforcement. “The officer has to respect a citizen’s right to legally carry a firearm (and) the citizen has to respect the officer’s right to perform his or her job when conducting a traffic stop.”
Philando Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, was shot on July 6, 2016, after he told then-St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez that he had a gun. Authorities later discovered Castile had a permit for the firearm. Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car with her then-4-year-old daughter, livestreamed the immediate aftermath of the shooting on Facebook.
Yanez was charged with manslaughter and other counts but was acquitted in 2017, sparking days of protests. Valerie Castile reached a nearly $3 million settlement with the city of St. Anthony less than two weeks later.
The working group on deadly police encounters, co-chaired by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and state DPS commissioner John Harrington, released the 28 recommendations in February. The recommendations include increasing community engagement by law enforcement, expanding state funding for law enforcement training, and creating an independent unit within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate cases of severe or deadly use of force, among others.
“I pray that Minnesota can be a model for other states … and do these things. We all can do better,” Valerie Castile said. “We’ve had these wonderful working groups with all these great recommendations, now it’s time to implement them.”
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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