As outrage mounted Thursday over the fatal shooting of a black Minnesota man killed during a traffic stop, authorities in Minnesota turned to what has now become a familiar playbook: They expressed shock, offered condolences and vowed a thorough investigation.
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am that this is terrible tragedy forced upon your family,” Dayton said. Diamond “Lavish” Reynolds, Castille’s girlfriend, responded: “I don’t want you guys to say you’re sorry. I want justice.” Dayton, speaking over shouts of those assembled and before he left without taking questions, responded: “You will get justice. You deserve justice. You will get justice.”
The shooting came as the Minneapolis region is still reeling from another high-profile fatal shooting involving police officers last year. The shooting of Jamar Clark, a black 24-year-old, prompted heated protests after his death in November — and criticism that continued when, just a month before Castille’s death, the Justice Department cleared the officers involved.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, Minneapolis NAACP president and a civil rights attorney, said she was not heartened by the governor asking for a federal investigation into this shooting, given the results of the investigation in Clark’s death. Federal and county officials who investigated the shooting said the officers would not face charges, with the Justice Department’s findings announced last month.
“I do not have faith in our justice system, whether it is the local level, the state level, the county level, the federal level,” Levy-Pounds said at the news conference Thursday. “How else do you hold officers accountable?”
While Dayton had asked the Justice Department to launch its own investigation, federal officials said that as of Thursday afternoon, they had not begun a separate probe and instead were ready to aid the state investigation.
“The Department of Justice will continue to monitor the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation into the death of Philando Castile and stands ready to provide assistance to the Bureau as needed,” a spokesman for the department said. “The Department is prepared, as necessary, to conduct further investigation and consider this matter under applicable federal law.”
Protesters quickly gathered outside Dayton’s mansion in the hours after word of the shooting began to spread online, fueled by a live video stream Reynolds posted on her Facebook page showing the bloody aftermath of the traffic stop. In the feed, which had been viewed more than 4 million times by Thursday, Reynolds said that Castille had let the officer know he had a legal firearm and was reaching for his wallet then the officer opened fire.
Castille appeared to lose consciousness in the video while the St. Anthony, Minn., police officer is seen shouting in the background. “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.” In response, Reynolds said: “You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license.”
On Thursday, Reynolds said the officer fired five times, and she added that authorities did not check Castille for a pulse and that it took 15 minutes for paramedics to arrive.
The fatal incident occurred in Falcon Heights, Minn., a small suburb in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region. Just hours earlier, the Justice Department had announced that it would investigate a fatal shooting in Baton Rouge, La., which was captured in part on graphic video footage that spread across social media and cable news channels. The response in Louisiana was similar to what happened in Minnesota a day later: Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said he called on the Justice Department to take over the investigation, and local officials praised the decision and said they welcomed it.
President Obama, in a statement Thursday, said that Americans should all “be deeply troubled” by the shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana. Obama said he was “encouraged” that the Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the Baton Rouge shooting.
“Regardless of the outcome of such investigations, what’s clear is that these fatal shootings are not isolated incidents,” he said. “They are symptomatic of the broader challenges within our criminal justice system, the racial disparities that appear across the system year after year, and the resulting lack of trust that exists between law enforcement and too many of the communities they serve.”
In many cases, authorities in areas where deadly police encounters become national news stories have sought to tamp down potential unrest by quickly moving to announce thorough investigations. As an activist in South Carolina put it after an officer there was seen on video shooting Walter Scott, a fleeing motorist, these efforts are a way to avoid “another Ferguson,” pointing to the Missouri city where sometimes-violent protests broke out after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in 2014.
These kinds of deaths are not rare, with more than 500 people having been shot and killed by police so far this year, an average of nearly three per day, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. But in recent years, some deaths involving police — with a backlash often fueled by graphic video or accounts — have sparked demonstrations that have rocked cities from San Francisco to Cleveland and from Ferguson to New York.
Fatal encounters with law enforcement have rocked cities across the country in recent years, with the protests that follow often fueled by longstanding unrest felt by residents uneasy with how they are policed. Minneapolis saw extended demonstrations after Clark’s death in November. Authorities said Clark was the suspect in an assault when he encountered two Minneapolis police officers, who later told investigators that they were trying to restrain him when he resisted and wound up on the ground with one officer. The other officer, saying that he feared for his partner’s life, fired a single shot at Clark that struck him near his left eye; he was pronounced dead a day later.
Protesters repeatedly gathered at a Minneapolis police station, demonstrations that saw spasms of violence when five people were wounded in a shooting not far from the rallies. Like the back-to-back days dominated by news of the shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota, that violence was also accompanied by unrest elsewhere: Even as people were taken into custody for shooting at protesters in Minneapolis, authorities in Chicago were preparing for what became large-scale protests after video was released of an officer there shooting a black teenager more than a dozen times. In Chicago, the intense outcry over the video prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) to fire his police superintendent and announce a task force that would recommend reforms for the department. The Justice Department also launched an investigation into the Chicago department.
In Chicago and in other places, demonstrators have often criticized how police officers are rarely charged for fatal shootings that occur on duty — and how in many cases, key details remain unknown, including the identities of many officers involved. The complaint is much the same in Minnesota, where a review by the Minneapolis Star Tribune found that since 2000, at least 148 people have been killed by police officers in the state. No officers have been charged in any of these deaths, the review found.
The officer who shot and killed Clark was justified because he believed that the 24-year-old was trying to grab his partner’s gun, Mike Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney, said in March. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said last month that authorities found “insufficient evidence” for federal criminal civil rights charges. In both cases, authorities focused on whether Clark was handcuffed when he was shot. While some witnesses had said this since November, and about half of the people who saw the event told the FBI during the investigation that they did believe he was cuffed, Hennepin and the Justice Department both said evidence suggested that Clark was not wearing handcuffs.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensions, the state agency that also investigated Clark’s death, said Thursday that it was “conducting a thorough and independent investigation” of Castile’s death. Dayton said he would “do everything in my power to help protect the integrity of that investigation, to ensure a proper and just outcome for all involved,” but activists in the area said the probe required another group.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said the investigation required “a truly independent entity.”
“We do not believe that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is that independent entity because the recent history of the BCA suggests that it is incapable of conducting a thorough and objective investigation into this tragic event,” Charles Samuelson, executive director of the ACLU of Minnesota, said in a statement.
On Thursday, hundreds of protesters gathered at the governor’s mansion with signs saying “Stop killing our neighbors” and “Shame.” Levy-Pounds, head of the local NAACP, said she wanted Obama to take a stand on the issue.
“We need President Obama to step up before he leaves office … to be strong on these issues of policing that have plagued his entire administration,” she said.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Obama “is deeply disturbed by these reports” in Louisiana and Minnesota.
“This does not have to be the new normal,” Earnest said. “This does not need to be the status quo that we tolerate.”
Elahe Izadi, Juliet Eilperin and Lindsey Bever contributed to this report.
[This story has been updated.]