FALCON HEIGHTS, Minn. — As Philando Castile’s head slumps backward while he lies dying next to her, Diamond Reynolds looks directly into the camera and explains that a Minnesota police officer just shot her fiancé four times.
The nation is, by now, accustomed to grainy cell phone videos of officer-involved shootings, but this footage from Falcon Heights — in suburb of St. Paul — is something more visceral: a woman live-streaming a shooting’s aftermath with the police officer a few feet away, his gun still trained on her bloody fiancé.
“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,” Reynolds said as she broadcast the shooting Wednesday evening on Facebook.
Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was a school nutrition services supervisor who was popular among his colleagues and students, according to his employer.
He had been pulled over for a busted tail light, Reynolds said on the Facebook video. He told the officer he was armed and had a concealed carry permit, she said. Her 4-year-old daughter is in the back seat.
As she speaks, Castile’s wrists are crossed. Blood covers the bottom of his white T-shirt sleeve and a large area around his sternum and left rib cage. Perhaps in shock or agony, he peers emptily upward.
‘You shot four bullets into him, sir’
Though you can’t see the St. Anthony police officer’s face, you can hear the agitation in his voice as he tells Reynolds to keep her hands where he can see them.
“I will, sir, no worries. I will,” Reynold says, composed, as she remains through much of the video.
The officer sounds distressed as he says, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off it.”
Moments later, Reynolds pleads with God and then the officer as she realizes Castile won’t likely make it.
“Please don’t tell me this, Lord. Please, Jesus, don’t tell me that he’s gone,” she said. “Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his license and registration, sir.”
She continues pleading outside the car as officers approach her with guns drawn. One orders her to her knees, and the phone begins filming the sky. Reynolds continues to plead with God before officers place her and her daughter in the back of the police car.
Later, at Hennepin County Medical Center, her fears were confirmed: Her 32-year-old fiancé was gone. Reynolds said she was detained by police until 5 a.m. on Thursday.
His death came a day after the officer-involved shooting of Alton Sterling was filmed by bystanders in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Alton Sterling, 37, died in that shooting, sparking mourning and outrage across the country.
It also comes eight months after the police killing of Jamar Clark in Minneapolis, which spurred demonstrations in March when a prosecutor announced that officers involved in Clark’s death would not be charged.
Castile’s mother said Thursday that he and his sister had stopped by her house earlier Wednesday, and during the visit, they had discussed the dangers of carrying weapons, even though both of them have concealed carry permits.
“I really don’t even want to carry my gun because I’m afraid that they’ll shoot me first and then ask questions later,” Valerie Castile eerily recalled her daughter saying.
She learned of the shooting via phone calls from people witnessing the live stream on Facebook, she said. When she and her daughter arrived on the scene, they weren’t permitted to speak to Reynolds, she said.
By the time she arrived at the hospital, the grieving mother said, her son was already dead and authorities wouldn’t let her see him or identify him. Police won’t let her ID him until Friday, she said.
“Right about now, it’s not looking too good because I’m not getting the answers that I’m asking for,” she said. “They’re telling me that they don’t know anything, so I don’t know anything.”
‘Black in the wrong place’
“Outraged” by her son’s death, Valerie Castile said he was a law-abiding citizen who did nothing wrong. She called her son “legitimate all the way across the board.”
“He had a permit to carry, but with all of that, trying to do the right things and live accordingly by the law, he was killed by the law,” she said. “A lot of our African-American men, women and children are being executed by the police and there are no consequences … Every day you hear of another black person being shot down, gunned down by the people that are supposed to protect us.”
Castile wondered whether her son was simply “black in the wrong place.”
“Everybody that knows my son knows that he is a laid back, quiet individual that works hard every day, pays taxes and comes home and plays video games. That’s it,” she said. “He’s not a gang banger. He’s not a thug. He’s very respectable. And I know he didn’t antagonize that officer in any way to make him feel like his life was threatened.”
Philando’s uncle, Clarence Castile, said the images of his nephew dying marked the “most horrific thing” he’d ever seen. He said Philando was “so docile and laid back” that it was difficult to understand how anyone could perceive him as a threat.
“He worked an honest job five days a week,” Castile’s mother said.
St. Paul Public Schools issued a statement on its website that Castile was a valued and widely loved employee, as well as a respected supervisor, with the district’s nutrition services department since he was 19 years old.
“Colleagues describe him as a team player who maintained great relationships with staff and students alike,” the statement said. “He had a cheerful disposition and his colleagues enjoyed working with him. He was quick to greet former coworkers with a smile and hug.”
Castile was also a product of the school district, having graduated from Central High School in 2001.
A coworker said Philando Castile was also quiet, respectful and kind.
“Kids loved him. He was smart, over-qualified,” the unnamed coworker said in the statement. “I knew him as warm and funny; he called me his ‘wing man.’ He wore a shirt and tie to his supervisor interview and said his goal was to one day ‘sit on the other side of this table.’”
An ongoing investigation
Sgt. Jon Mangseth, interim chief of the St. Anthony police, said two officers were present when the shooting occurred — a primary officer, who he believes has more than five years of experience, and a backup officer. Having both is standard procedure for the department, which has jurisdiction over Falcon Heights.
St. Anthony police don’t have body cameras, according to office manager Kim Brazil.
One officer has been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure, Mangseth said at a short news conference early Thursday.
“We will release the information as we learn it, and we will address concerns as we are faced with them,” he said.
Mangseth said although he hasn’t seen the video, he’s aware it exists. The nearly 10-minute video garnered more than 1 million views before it was pulled from Facebook. It was later re-released on the social media platform with a graphic warning.
Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the shooting, Mangseth said. An autopsy was under way Thursday morning at the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, according to a spokeswoman.
By early Thursday, protesters had begun to gather outside Minnesota governor’s residence. A community vigil and march was being organized for Thursday evening, beginning at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, the school where Castile worked.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton released a statement extending his condolences to those who knew Castile.
“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,” he said.
Dayton said Thursday he had spoke with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to request a federal investigation be launched to look into the incident.The U.S. Justice Department said in a statement that it’s “aware of the incident and is assessing the situation.”
Dayton vowed that “justice will be served.”
President Barack Obama is also following the shooting and is “deeply disturbed” by the events, as well as the Sterling shooting in Baton Rouge, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.
‘I’m right here’
Reynolds narrates the shooting throughout much of the video, alerting her followers and the viewing public to what was happening.
She’s calm and composed at first — a striking juxtaposition to the officers around the vehicle. Once she’s outside the car, Reynolds begins to cry and lose her composure while police can also be heard in the background.
The camera continues to point up at the sky, before it goes black while the sound continues.
Reynolds eventually gets the phone again and begins filming from the back seat of the police car with her little girl. She appears calm again, alerting viewers to her location and asking someone to come pick her up.
“I can’t believe they just did this,” she says.
Then she screams, her anguish clear.
“It’s OK,” the little girl says, “I’m right here with you.”
‘I wanted it to go viral’
In fiery remarks to reporters during an impromptu news conference Thursday outside the Minnesota governor’s residence, Reynolds lambasted the St. Anthony police. She said they separated her from her daughter, didn’t tell her until 3 a.m. that Castile was dead and didn’t take her home until 5 a.m.
“They took me to jail. They didn’t feed us. They didn’t give us water,” she said. “They put me in a room and separated me from my child. They treated me like a prisoner.”
She and Castile had just left the grocery store when they were pulled over. She cast doubt on the alleged reason for the traffic stop.
“The police officer stopped us for a busted taillight that wasn’t busted,” Reynolds said.
She said the officer then asked for Castile’s identification and as he reached into his back pocket, the officer opened fire.
“They took an innocent man from us. He didn’t do anything,” she said. “He did exactly as the police asked.”
She said the officer should “not be home with his family” and in jail instead. She said that while officers placed her in the back of the police cruiser, other police were consoling the officer who shot Castile, telling him he’d be OK.
She said her intention behind live-streaming the aftermath of the shooting was to show people the truth of what happened.
“I wanted it to go viral so the people could see,” she said. “I wanted everybody in the world to see what the police do.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.