A Minnesota man whose dying moments were broadcast in a viral Facebook Live video after he was shot by an officer during a traffic stop has been identified as a popular school cafeteria worker with no felony arrests.
Almost a year after Castile was shot dead – despite legally being able to carry the weapon he had on him that day – the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, was found not guilty by a jury in Minnesota, leading to cursing in the courtroom. Yanez testified that Castile didn’t follow his orders, but prosecutors contested that. On June 20, authorities released a disturbing police dashcam video of the shooting. You can watch it and see a transcript here.
In the graphic video, filmed Wednesday July 6, Philando Divall Castile, 32, moans in pain and bleeds through a white T-shirt as the officer who just shot him points a gun through the car window. In the other front seat, his girlfriend, Lavish Reynolds, captures the scene on her cell phone, narrating what’s occurring and streaming it live on Facebook as her daughter cries in the back seat.
Police told Minnesota television at the scene that they were aware of the Facebook Live video. They released a statement saying a gun was recovered at the scene and that the shooting originated with a traffic stop around 9 p.m. at Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street in Falcon Heights, with two officers present. Falcon Heights, Minnesota, is the home of the Minnesota State Fair and is a suburb of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
You can watch the video below (warning, it’s graphic):
Castile died shortly thereafter in a hospital. “This was a GOOD MAN,” a parent at the school where he worked wrote on Facebook.
Minnesota television station KARE11 has obtained what may be police dispatch audio/scanner traffic of the initial stop and shooting aftermath. Castile’s girlfriend, Reynolds, has said they were stopped for a broken taillight they didn’t really have. The possible dispatch audio has a man purported to be the officer saying, “I’m going to stop a car. I’m going to check IDs. I have reason to pull it over.” Listen here.
“The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery,” the man adds. “The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ‘cause of the wide set nose.” KARE 11 says that the officer’s attorney, Tom Kelly, has now confirmed details in the audio, saying, “They had a reasonable suspicion he may match the description of the suspect in the earlier robbery.” He said Castile himself was not a robbery suspect and that the car had a brake light out.
However, Castile had only a minor criminal history in Minnesota, almost entirely for traffic. Nothing in his record is even remotely as serious as armed robbery. The TV station said it obtained the audio from a viewer and hasn’t been able to verify it with police, although the license plate mentioned in it matches Castile’s; Heavy has also reached out to a police spokesperson for verification, as well as the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (which is investigating the shooting).
BCA’s spokeswoman, Jill Oliveira, said: “Regarding the audio you referenced… I don’t have information to provide to you about it. The BCA did not release it.” Asked for the dispatch audio, she said, “Data from an ongoing investigation does not become public under Minnesota law until the investigation concludes.”
KARE notes that, although it’s unclear which robbery the audio refers to, St. Anthony police had sent out photos of a July 2 gas station robbery in nearby Lauderdale through the Minnesota Crime Alert Network. It describes two men with dreadlocks robbing a gas station with handguns. See photos of the gas station armed robbery suspects here.
After the charges were filed against Yanez, the county attorney said Castile is not a suspect in that robbery, and he would not have brought the charges against the officer if he thought otherwise.
Castile’s uncle, Clarence, called the stop “racial profiling” in an interview with KARE 11 TV, saying: “I just thought it was kind of insane to pull somebody over saying they matched a robbery suspect by having flared nostrils. It is kind of hard to see flared nostrils from a car.” LillieNews.com, a local news site, published surveillance video photos of the gas station robbery suspects. The story says “two men” with dreadlocks had robbed the gas station with handguns.
In the video, the girl in the back seat is heard crying as Castile bleeds out in the front seat. The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports the child is believed to be 4-years-old. Police say that Castile’s shooting – and that of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana – may have partly motivated the Dallas police shooter.
Here’s what you need to know about Philando Castile:
1. He Was a Beloved School Cafeteria Worker Who Snuck Extra Graham Crackers to Children
Castile worked as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul. A statement from the school system said Castile was hired in 2002, at age 19, and was promoted to supervisor two years ago. The statement described him as a “team player who maintained great relationships with staff and students alike” and said he was “quick to greet former coworkers with a smile and hug.”
The statement included this glowing assessment from a co-worker: “Kids loved him. He was smart, over-qualified. He was quiet, respectful, and kind. I knew him as warm and funny; he called me his ‘wing man.'”
“This was a GOOD MAN,” a parent of a child at the school wrote on Facebook, saying that Castile sneaked extra graham crackers to children and hugged a borderline autistic child every day. He “pushed extra food in them like a grandma” and took care to know every single child’s name.
Philando’s uncle, Clarence, said Philando had worked in the cafeteria for 12 to 15 years “cooking for the little kids,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Clarence Castile called Philando “a good kid” and said he grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, also living in Minneapolis.
Some of those children – who knew Castile as “Mr. Phil” – were among the 3,000 people who attended Castile’s funeral.
Castile’s mother told the Star-Tribune that her son had worked all of his adult life. “They killed my son,” she said. “They took a good man, a hard-working man; he worked since he was 18 years old.”
2. He Was a Straight-A Student in High School, Family Says & Had Only a Minor Criminal Record
Philando’s cousin, Antonio Johnson, 31, told the Star-Tribune that Philando was an honors student at St. Paul Central High School, “where he was a straight-A student.” He called Castile “very non-confrontational.” Some of his friends called him “Doc.”
In the Facebook Live video, Castile’s girlfriend, Lavish “Diamond” Reynolds, says that he works for the St. Paul school system, is not a gang member, and doesn’t have a criminal record. A search of Minnesota court records turned up zero felony charges and a high volume of cases for minor traffic offenses, such as driving with a revoked license, failure to wear a seat belt, and no proof of insurance. Two marijuana-possession charges were both dismissed.
The records show he had not been arrested since 2011, though he had been issued tickets for minor traffic and parking violations. NBC News counted 31 misdemeanor traffic violations, for things like driving without a muffler. A Heavy review of court records found even more traffic offenses. Racial profiling has been a concern in Minnesota; the Legislature even commissioned a major study on the topic, in which 65 police departments participated.
Minnesota police stopped Castile for driving without a muffler. For not having an insurance card. For driving after revocation of his driver’s license, and so on. They accused him of minor traffic issues more than 50 times, one for almost every year of his life, Heavy found.
His employment in the school cafeteria would have required him to pass a background check, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension: “Minnesota schools (123B.03) are required to conduct background checks on any employees who will have contact with children as part of their jobs. Organizations who conduct background checks on behalf of schools or school districts may also be provided with this information.”
According to Facebook postings, Philando Castile also had worked at Target, went to the University of Minnesota, and graduated from Central High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. On Facebook, his comments included, “Hard work pays off !!!!!!!” and “It’s hard trying to find sumthing real in this artificial world !!!!” But his life wasn’t all serious. One post showed a liquor bottle and said, “Party all the time !!!!!”
3. He Frequently Posted About Social Justice Causes, & His Sister Posted About Alton Sterling Just Hours Before Castile’s Death
On social media, Philando Castile frequently made comments about social justice. On his Facebook page, he posted a photo of the Black Panther Movement and wrote, “BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY!” In another post, he passed on a Tupac Shakur quote, “They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” He also wrote: “GOD IS GOOD!!!!………ALL THE TIME !!!!!!” In another post he said, “They criminalize the black lifestyle !!!!” This is a reoccurring theme in his writings: “We still slaves to the system !!!!!!”
In another post he wrote, “U GOIN TO JAIL NOW !!!!!” to which a friend commented, “You must’ve watch that Video of the bus driver Knockin that Girls Head off … Lol.”
Castile’s 23-year-old sister, Allysza Castile, told the Washington Post: “He’s gone.” Through tears, she told the newspaper the family members were gathered at the hospital but were not able to see Castile’s body as of 1 a.m. Thursday. The president of the local NAACP arrived to comfort the family, reported a KARE 11 News reporter.
Philando’s sister wrote on Facebook: “They shot my brother !! Lord Jesus !!”
Just a few hours before her brother was shot and killed by the police, the sister posted a comment about the Baton Rouge police shooting of Alton Sterling. That shooting scene, which happened the day before, was also filmed with a cell phone, although it wasn’t streamed live on Facebook. The sister wrote:
I haven’t watched the video of this man being killed by police and I will not because it will literally break my heart and I’m soo tired of seeing this happen to my PEOPLE for no reason ! All these killings caught camera and still no justice it makes me sick ! RIP #altonsterling
4. Castile Had a Gun Permit, According to His Girlfriend & a Major Newspaper & Informed the Officer That He Was Armed
In her Facebook Live video, Lavish Reynolds said that Philando Castile was “licensed to carry” and was “trying to get out his ID” and “let the officer know he had a firearm, and he was reaching for his wallet, and the officer just shot him. … He just shot his arm off.”
The attorney for the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, now tells Kare 11 that Yanez was reacting to “the presence of that gun and the display of that gun” – not race – when he shot Philando Castile. The lawyer said Yanez is Latino. On the video, Reynolds said Castile had a gun permit. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that Castile had a valid permit to carry a gun from Hennepin County, Minnesota (some blog reports had cited a Ramsey County Sheriff’s Tweet that Castile didn’t apply for a permit through Ramsey County; the Star-Tribune says it verified through a source that he got one when he lived in Hennepin, in the town of Robbinsdale).
In an emotional press conference, which you can view above, Reynolds gave a detailed account of the stop that led to Castile’s death, prompted what she said was a “broken taillight, which wasn’t broken.” She described Castile as “the quietest, most laid-back person you would ever meet. He was loving. … Nothing within his body language said intimidation. Nothing within his body said ‘shoot me.’ Nothing within his body language said ‘kill me, I want to be dead.’ He did not do nothing but what the police officer asked of us, which was to put your hands in the air and get your license and registration.” She said they were returning from the grocery store when stopped, according to CNN.
A bystander captured the shooting scene from a distant vantage point and posted the video on Twitter:
Philando’s uncle Clarence referenced firearms when telling KARE 11 News that Castile was an “upstanding young man.”
“He’s not a gun guy,” the uncle said. “He’s not a shooter, not a killer.”
After Officer Yanez was charged in November, the county attorney confirmed Castile had a permit to carry a pistol, and had his permit, along with the legally owned gun, in his possession at the time of the shooting.
5. Protests Erupted in the Wake of the Shooting & the Governor Called for a Federal Investigation
Shortly after the shooting, protests erupted outside the governor’s mansion, where people strung yellow police tape over the gate.
I extend my deepest condolences to the family, friends, and community of Philando Castile. Our state today grieves with them.
This morning, I spoke by phone with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to request that the U.S. Department of Justice begin an immediate independent federal investigation into this matter.
Overnight, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension began an independent investigation at the state level. They are currently collecting all necessary evidence, and interviewing witnesses, to determine what happened, and to assure that justice in this case is served. I will do everything in my power to help protect the integrity of that investigation, to ensure a proper and just outcome for all involved.
Sgt. Jon Mangseth, interim chief of the St. Anthony Police Department, told the Washington Post that he could not remember another shooting in the department’s history. He said, “We haven’t had an officer involved shooting in 30 years or more, I’d have to go back in the history books. It’s shocking, it’s not something that occurs in this area often.”
Mangseth said the details were still being investigated. He initially told the Post that he hadn’t yet seen the Facebook video. At one point in the video, the officer can be heard saying, “I told him not to reach for it! I told him to get his head up!”