Prosecutor: Philando Castile investigation top priority

AP News
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Posted: Jul 08, 2016 5:12 PM
Prosecutor: Philando Castile investigation top priority

FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota prosecutor said Friday he has asked for a "prompt and thorough investigation" following the police killing of a black motorist whose girlfriend streamed the shooting's gruesome aftermath live on Facebook.

Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi said the video is part of the investigation into Wednesday's shooting of Philando Castile in suburban St. Paul. The school cafeteria supervisor was shot "for no apparent reason" while reaching for his wallet during a traffic stop, after telling the officer he had a gun and a permit to carry it, his girlfriend said in the video.

Choi declined to provide details about the incident. Police also have refused to say what led up to the traffic stop, why Castile was pulled over or why the officer drew his gun.

But the prosecutor said the shooting highlighted the need for better interactions between police and black residents.

"We must do better in our state and in our nation to improve police-community interactions to ensure the safety of everyone in this country, but particularly the safety of African Americans, who disproportionately lose their lives as a result," Choi said during a news conference Friday.

He also acknowledged the wide reach of the Facebook video, noting "what is depicted in the video, it just makes you sad to watch all of that unfold."

His comments came a day after Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton jumped into a suddenly reignited national debate over how law enforcement treats people of color, saying police likely wouldn't have fired if Castile had been white.

"Would this have happened if those passengers would have been white? I don't think it would have," Dayton said to a crowd gathered outside his residence Thursday.

Hours after Dayton's remarks, gunmen shot and killed five police officers and wounded six more amid protests in Dallas over Castile's killing and the fatal police shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling. Sterling, who also was black, was killed Tuesday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after he scuffled with two white police officers outside a convenience store. Portions of that shooting were also caught on video.

On Friday, Dayton said he stood by his statements but that he had no new information about the case.

Castile was shot in Falcon Heights, a mostly white community of 5,000 served primarily by the nearby St. Anthony Police Department.

Choi said his office has not yet met with Castile's family, saying it wouldn't be appropriate until investigators completed their work. He said the ongoing investigation was a top priority and that he would decide whether to give the case to a grand jury after investigators presented their findings to his office.

In the video, Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, describes being pulled over for a "busted tail light." Reynolds told reporters Thursday that the 32-year-old Castile, of St. Paul, did "nothing but what the police officer asked of us, which was to put your hands in the air and get your license and registration."

The video she streamed Wednesday night on Facebook Live shows her in a car next to a bloodied Castile slumped in a seat. A clearly distraught person who appears to be a police officer stands at the car's window, tells her to keep her hands up and says: "I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out."

"You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir," Reynolds calmly responds.

State investigators said the two officers involved were Jeronimo Yanez and Joseph Kauser, both four-year veterans of the St. Anthony Police Department. Both were put on administrative leave, as is standard.

Yanez approached Castile's car from the driver's side, and Kauser from the passenger side, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. The agency said Yanez opened fire, striking Castile multiple times.

The agency said several videos, including squad car video, have been collected, though St. Anthony officers don't wear body cameras.

The bureau did not give the officers' races. Reynolds described the officer who shot Castile as Asian.

The St. Anthony Police Department's 2015 annual report points to Yanez's volunteerism. He gave a tour of the station to a local Cub Scout troop and volunteered with St. Paul's Cinco De Mayo celebration, participating in a parade with other members of the National Latino Police Officers Association.

The previous year's report includes a photo of Yanez solemnly standing guard at a memorial to fallen officers at the state Capitol. Yanez's attorney, Thomas Kelly, didn't return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The U.S. Justice Department, which quickly launched a civil rights investigation into the Baton Rouge shooting, said it would monitor Minnesota's investigation. Dayton said he and other state officials would ask for stronger federal involvement.

At a vigil Thursday evening outside the Montessori school where Castile worked, his mother, Valerie Castile, called her son "an angel." She recalled cautioning him to always comply with police, but she said she never thought she would lose him.

"This has to cease. This has to stop, right now," she told the crowd.

Hundreds of demonstrators braved rain and gathered outside the governor's mansion in St. Paul. The group swelled to over 1,000 for a time late Thursday, as people marched from the school vigil. Dayton waded through the crowd as protesters chanted: "What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!"

President Barack Obama called on law enforcement to root out bias in its ranks, saying the Minnesota and Louisiana shootings were symptoms of a "broader set of racial disparities" in the justice system that aren't being fixed quickly enough.

"When incidents like this occur, there's a big chunk of our fellow citizenry that feels as if it's because of the color of their skin, they are not being treated the same," Obama said several hours before the Dallas shootings. "And that hurts. And that should trouble all of us."

Speaking later, he said America was "horrified" over the Dallas shootings and there was no possible justification for the attacks.

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This story has been updated to correct Castile's first name to Philando, not Philandro.

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Associated Press writers Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, Carla K. Johnson and Sarah Rankin in Chicago, Robin McDowell in St. Paul, Sadie Gurman and Nomaan Merchant in Minneapolis, and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.