- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Most of the 50 people charged last month in a protest that shut down Interstate 94 in St. Paul over the police shooting of Philando Castile have rejected plea deals.

They made their first appearances Friday in Ramsey County District Court. The city offered plea bargains in which each protester’s riot and unlawful assembly charges would be dropped in return for a guilty plea to public nuisance, with a fine of $50 plus court costs and a 30-day stayed jail sentence, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. All but one of the protesters opted to continue their cases instead and schedule second hearings for this fall.

Around 300 protesters blocked I-94 in St. Paul on July 9 in protest of the shooting of Castile by a St, Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights three nights earlier. The charging documents say some of them began throwing “rocks, cement chunks, rebar, bottles, and other items” at police and ignored orders to disperse.

Sophie M. Keane, 22, accepted the plea deal. She is beginning a job in France next month and needed to close the case against her before leaving the country said her attorney, Elyssa Danahy. But she “stands in solidarity with the rest of the folks in the courtroom,” Danahy said.

Several other protesters — who were arrested at Grand Avenue and Dale Street after the I-94 shutdown and were cited for public nuisance and unlawful assembly — had their first hearings Friday as well. Only one of them accepted plea deals that would have resulted in dismissals after a year.

Officer Jeronimo Yanez fatally shot the 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker during a traffic stop on July 6 in nearby Falcon Heights. Castile’s girlfriend - who video streamed the shooting’s gruesome aftermath live on Facebook - said Castile was shot several times while reaching for his ID after telling the officer he had a gun permit and was armed. Castile was black while Yanez is Latino. Castile’s death set off weeks of protests and calls for Yanez to be charged. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is still investigating.

Deputy City Attorney Laura Pietan addressed the tensions as the hearing began.

“It’s important for you to know that this office . shares in the collective grief and anger” that the city experienced after Castile’s death, Pietan told the defendants. “We understand why things got to where they did that weekend.”

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