Video of police killing of Philando Castile publicly released

Conversation about taillight devolved within seconds into gunfire
People gather around the coffin of Philando Castile in July 2016.
People gather around the coffin of Philando Castile in July 2016.

Days after a police officer was acquitted of all charges in the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a black motorist in Minnesota, video of the shooting was publicly released Tuesday for the first time.

Millions of people have seen the immediate aftermath of the shooting because Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, livestreamed it on Facebook. But few have seen video of the moments before that, when the shooting took place along a suburban street last year.

This video, from a dashboard camera on Officer Jeronimo Yanez’s patrol car, parked right behind Castile’s car, was played several times this month to jurors during Yanez’s manslaughter trial but had not been shown outside the courtroom.

The video reveals how a mundane conversation about a broken taillight devolved within seconds into gunfire. The newly released footage provides the fullest account yet of an episode that led to a national debate over police conduct toward black people, but it also leaves unanswered critical questions about what happened that day.

Before they meet

The video opens at dusk July 6, 2016, on a busy street near the Minnesota state fairgrounds. Yanez is following a white Oldsmobile driven by Castile in Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb. When Yanez turns on his flashing lights, Castile, a longtime school cafeteria worker, quickly pulls to the side and stops his car. Reynolds is in the front passenger seat, and her young daughter is in the back.

Although it is not heard on the video, Yanez radioed to a colleague that he thought Castile matched the description of a robbery suspect from a few days earlier. He tells a fellow officer that Castile’s “wide-set nose” looked like the robber’s. Yanez waits for the second officer to arrive before pulling Castile over, but he never mentions his robbery suspicions to Castile.

What the video shows

Most revealing, perhaps, about the newly released video are the voices that can be heard on it — a calm, polite discussion at first, and then, in seconds, a sudden burst of tension and shots.

At first, Yanez walks up to Castile’s window and tells him that his brake light is broken. The officer asks for proof of insurance and a driver’s license. Castile responds politely and hands his insurance card through the window.

Castile, who had a permit to carry a gun, then says, “Sir, I have to tell you I do have a firearm on me.”

Yanez then reaches toward his holster and says, “OK, don’t reach for it, then.”

Castile starts to answer but is cut off by Yanez, whose voice is now raised. “Don’t pull it out!” the officer yells.

“I’m not pulling it out,” Castile says, and Reynolds also tries to assure Yanez that her boyfriend is not grabbing the gun.

Yanez again yells, “Don’t pull it out!” Then he fires seven shots, fatally wounding Castile. “I wasn’t reaching,” Castile says softly just after the gunfire stops.

In the minutes after the shooting, Yanez keeps his gun pointed into the car as he calls for backup and an ambulance. He grows emotional and repeatedly yells an expletive.

What the video doesn’t show

The video does not show images that might have been essential for jurors to consider: a full view of the front seat of Castile’s car, which would have showed his hands — and what he was reaching for — just before the shooting.

Yanez has said that Castile was reaching for his gun, and his lawyers made that a central point in his defense. Yanez, who was charged with three felonies, including second-degree manslaughter, told jurors he feared for his life. But Reynolds has said that Castile was simply reaching for his driver’s license, as the officer had asked him to do.

From where the dashcam was perched, though, behind the car, the video cannot resolve this.

Reacting to new images

The footage quickly spread after it was released by state investigators Tuesday afternoon. The images drew anger and prompted responses on social media from rights activists and others.

Protesters have marched in the St. Paul area since the acquittal Friday, calling the shooting unreasonable and evidence of racism in the justice system.

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