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Outrage builds after Minnesota officer fatally shoots black man during traffic stop

🕐 13 min read

A Minnesota traffic stop turned deadly Wednesday evening when a police officer opened fire on a black driver and killed him – less than 48 hours after another fatal police shooting in Louisiana.

The confrontation’s bloody aftermath was broadcast live on Facebook by a female passenger in the car.

“He killed my boyfriend,” Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds said in the video posted on her Facebook page.

Philando Castile, 32, died at a Minneapolis hospital, a family member told The Washington Post.

As outrage mounted Thursday over Castile’s death, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said that he has asked the White House for a federal investigation into the shooting. In a statement, Dayton said he spoke with Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, to ask that the Justice Department look into the shooting.

FBI Director James Comey, testifying before Congress on Thursday, said he was briefed on the shooting and added that he “would expect we’ll be involved.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the state agency investigating the shooting, said it was conducting initial interviews with witnesses as well as the officer. Officials on Thursday did not release the identity of the officer who fired the fatal shots in the encounter with Castile.

As blood soaked through Castile’s shirt Wednesday night, Reynolds said on camera that her boyfriend was legally licensed to carry a firearm and was reaching for his identification when the officer started to shoot.

“He let the officer know that he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet and the officer just shot him in his arm,” she said in a Facebook video viewed by millions.

Castile moaned and appeared to lose consciousness as the officer shouted expletives in the background in apparent frustration.

“Ma’am, keep your hands where they are,” he yelled at Reynolds. “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his hands up.”

“You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license,” Reynolds responded. “Oh my God. Please don’t tell me he’s dead. Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that.”

The incident occurred in Falcon Heights, a quiet St. Paul suburb that is a few miles from St. Anthony. The St. Anthony Police Department confirmed the driver’s death during a brief news conference Thursday morning but did not identify the officer involved in the shooting or his race.

Castile’s family members and friends said was a “good man” who worked for St. Paul Public Schools.

“He’s gone,” Castile’s sister, Allysza, told The Post through tears.

Reynolds told reporters Thursday morning that she and Castile were on their way home when he was shot. He had just gotten a haircut for his upcoming birthday, she said, and then they had gone grocery shopping.

The two were pulled over for a broken tail light.

Reynolds said the officer came to the window and instructed them to put their hands in the air. He then asked to see Castile’s license and registration, which, Reynolds said, Castile kept in a thick wallet in a pants pocket.

“As he’s reaching for his back pocket wallet, he lets the officer know: ‘Officer, I have a firearm on me.’ I begin to yell, ‘But he’s licensed to carry,’ ” Reynolds said. “After that, he [the officer] began to take off shots: ba ba ba ba. ‘Don’t move, don’t move!’

“But how can you not move when you’re reaching for license and registration?” Reynolds said. “It’s either you want my hands in the air or you want my identification.”

Authorities did not provide details about the encounter during two early morning news conferences.

The Justice Department said Thursday that it was “aware of the incident and is assessing the situation.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters aboard Air Force One that the president “is deeply disturbed” by the reports of shootings in Minneapolis and Louisiana.

“This does not have to be the new normal,” Earnest said. “This does not have to be the status quo that we tolerate.”

Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., whose district is about two miles from the scene, told CNN that the shooting was not an isolated incident.

“There is a systematic targeting of African-Americans and a systematic lack of accountability,” Ellison said.

Castile’s death came on the heels of another high-profile police shooting, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where a white officer killed a black man, Alton Sterling.

In both cases, cellphone video footage of the incident or its immediate aftermath quickly circulated on social media, fueling anger and protests over the police officers’ actions.

Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, told CNN early Thursday that she first found out her son had been shot when she heard her daughter start to scream while watching the video on social media.

“I was like, ‘What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?'” she told CNN.

She said she rushed to the scene of the shooting but was stopped by police.

“I just wanted to know where my son was because I didn’t want my son to die alone,” she said.

She said in the interview Thursday morning that she still had not been allowed to identity her son’s body.

Valerie Castile described her son as a “laid back” and “quiet” man who worked to provide for his family.

“He’s not a gang banger; he’s not a thug,” she told CNN. “He’s very respectable and I know he didn’t antagonize that officer in any way to make him feel like his life was in danger.”

She said she assumes her son did have a firearm with him because “that was something that we always discussed” but that he had a license for it. She said she always taught him to “comply” with law enforcement.

“The key thing in order to try to survive being stopped by the police is to comply,” she told CNN. “Whatever they ask you to do, do it. Don’t say nothing. Just do whatever they want you to do. So what’s the difference in complying and you get killed anyway?

“I made sure my kids understood the difference in being law-abiding, and that the police were there to help,” she added. “I never once in my life have thought that my son would actually be killed by the persons that are supposed to protect and serve him.”

Within hours of the incident, a crowd had gathered at the site of the shooting. When authorities removed Castile’s car, angry protesters tried to block the tow truck, according to KARE reporter Melissa Colorado.

As vehicle was towed away, the protesters chanted “murderer,” according to Fox9’s Ted Haller.

Candles were placed at the site where Castile was shot.

Protesters then gathered outside the Minnesota governor’s mansion, chanting “Philando Castile.”

“I extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and community of Philando Castile,” Dayton said in his statement Thursday. “Our state today grieves with them.”

Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, said that in the moments after the shooting, she was trying to stay calm for her 4-year-old daughter, who was in the car when the officer opened fire. But it was her daughter, she said, who provided comfort.

“My daughter told me stay strong, and that’s what I had to do. My daughter told me, ‘don’t cry,’ and that’s what I had to do. My daughter prayed for me,” Reynolds told reporters Thursday, adding: “She knew that he was gone before I knew, and she said, ‘Mom, the police are bad guys. They killed him and he’s never coming back. He’s never coming back.”

She added: “They took a part of my heart, they took a part of my soul. He had no probable cause to take my boyfriend away from me. . . . They took him away and now they have to pay. I will not be able to sleep until I get justice.”

“And even after justice this will never go away,” she added.

Later, at an NAACP news conference outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Dayton emerged and addressed Reynolds and Castile’s uncle.

“I can’t tell you how sorry I am that this is terrible tragedy forced upon your family,” he said.

“I don’t want you guys to say you’re sorry,” Reynolds responded. “I want justice.”

Dayton, speaking over shouts, responded: “You will get justice. You deserve justice. You will get justice.”

The governor then left the NAACP gathering.

A website for J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School lists Phil Castile as its cafeteria supervisor.

Clarence Castile, Philando’s uncle, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his nephew had worked in the school’s cafeteria for 12 to 15 years, “cooking for the little kids.” He said his nephew was “a good kid” who grew up in St. Paul.

Saint Paul Public Schools said in a statement that Castile graduated from Central High School in 2001 and went to work the next year in the district’s nutrition services department, eventually earning a supervisory role.

“I am deeply sorry for his family and for their loss,” SPPS Superintendent Valeria Silva said in the statement. “He’s worked in SPPS for many years and he graduated from our district, so he was one of our own.”

Philando Castile’s Facebook page says he attended the University of Minnesota.

Police in St. Anthony appeared almost as stunned by the killing as was Castile’s family. Sgt. Jon Mangseth, interim chief, said the shooting was the first he could remember in the department’s history.

“We haven’t had an officer-involved shooting in 30 years or more. I’d have to go back in the history books, to tell you the truth,” he said during a news briefing at the crime scene. “It’s shocking. It’s not something that occurs in this area often.”

Mangseth said details of the shooting were still unclear.

“As this unfolds we will release the information as we learn it, and we will address concerns as we are made aware of them,” he said early Tuesday, adding he had yet to see the Facebook video, which he had only learned about from members of the media. “As we learn more information we will release that in a news release.”

Mangseth said he believed the officer involved in the shooting had “in excess of five years” on the police force.

The interim chief did not add any more details during a second news conference early Thursday morning, except to say that the driver had died and that a gun had been recovered from the scene.

By mid-afternoon Thursday, the department had yet to release additional information, instead referring questions to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

From her video, Reynolds appears to have begun recording seconds after her boyfriend was shot, just after 9 p.m. local time. (The footage appears to have been flipped when it was uploaded to social media sites, mistakenly suggesting Castile was the passenger in the car when, in fact, he was the driver.)

The video startled police reform advocates, who expressed a mixture of frustration and fatigue.

“Philando Castile should be alive today,” DeRay Mckesson, a prominent member of the Black Lives Matter movement who worked in nearby Minneapolis, wrote in a text message.

“I don’t know what else to say,” Mckesson said of the video. “He should be alive today. He is not alive because a police officer murdered him in cold blood.”

Castile is at least the 506th person shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to a Washington Post database that tracks such shootings.

He is one of 123 black Americans shot and killed by police so far in 2016, according to the database. About 10 percent of the black Americans shot and killed were unarmed at the time of the shooting, while about 61 percent were armed with a gun.

Castile’s death came 234 days after two police officers in nearby Minneapolis fatally shot Jamar Clark, an unarmed 24-year-old black man whose death sparked fierce protests in the city.

A county prosecutor said in March that the two officers involved would not face criminal charges because they believed Clark was trying to grab one of their guns, and the Justice Department has since said that those officers won’t face federal civil rights charges, either.

Clark was one of 990 people shot and killed by on-duty police officers during 2015, according to The Post’s database documenting police shootings. He was one of 12 people fatally shot by officers in Minnesota last year.

A review by the Minneapolis Star Tribune conducted last year found that since 2000, at least 143 people have been killed by police in Minnesota and no officers have been charged in any of these deaths.

Wednesday’s shooting occurred in a middle-class neighborhood of wood-and-stucco homes with generous yards next to the site of the Minnesota State Fair and near the University of Minnesota’s agricultural college. A busy intersection nearby is home to restaurants popular to residents of Falcon Heights and the neighboring suburb of Roseville.

It’s a desired location for homeowners because of the close proximity to both Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The video begins in jarring fashion, with Castile covered in blood, staring toward the car ceiling.

“Stay with me,” Reynolds pleads.

“We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back,” she explains to the camera as the officer can be seen aiming his handgun at the dying driver.

Reynolds continues to film even as a second officer orders her out of the car.

“Where’s my daughter?” Reynolds asks. “You got my daughter?”

An officer can be seen in the distance holding Reynolds’s child.

“Face away from me and walk backwards,” the second officer orders.

He then tells Reynolds to get on her knees. As her daughter cries in the background, handcuffs can be heard tightening around Reynolds’s wrists.

“Why am I being arrested?” she asks.

“Ma’am, you’re just being detained right now until we get this all sorted out, okay?” the second officer responds.

“Wow,” Reynolds says as the camera tilts upwards towards the evening sky. “They threw my phone, Facebook.”

As an ambulance draws nearer, its siren growing louder and then suddenly stopping, Reynolds grows more frantic.

“Please don’t tell me he’s gone,” she screams. “Please Jesus, no. Please no. Please no, don’t let him be gone, Lord.”

Someone, possibly the officer who shot Castile, can be heard cussing in the background.

“He was reaching for his license and registration. You told him to get it sir! You told him,” Reynolds says. “He tried to tell you he was licensed to carry and he was going to take it off. Please don’t tell me boyfriend is gone. He don’t deserve this.”

The screen goes black.

“Please Lord, you know our rights Lord,” Reynolds says, apparently praying.

“You know we are innocent people, Lord. We are innocent people.”

At one point, an officer can be heard talking to Reynolds’s daughter.

“Can you stand right here, sweetie?” a male officer says.

“I’m gonna get my mommy’s purse,” the girl says, her face flashing on screen as she picks up her mother’s still-recording phone.

“Is that your phone?” the male officer asks.

The video then cuts to Reynolds sitting in the back of a squad car.

“Don’t be scared,” she tells her daughter, before addressing the camera.

“My daughter just witnessed this,” she says. “The police just shot him for no apparent reason, no reason at all.”

“It’s okay, Mommy,” the little girl says, as her mother sobs. “It’s okay. I’m right here with you.”

“Y’all please pray for us,” Reynolds says at the end of the video. “I ask everybody on Facebook, everybody that’s watching, everybody that’s tuned in, please pray for us.”

– – –

The Washington Post’s Mark Berman, Juliet Eilperin, Susan Hogan and Elahe Izadi contributed to this report, which has been updated.

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