Lawyer: Cop Who Shot Castile Thought He Was Robbery Suspect

Lawyer: Cop Who Shot Castile Thought He Was Robbery Suspect
Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile of St. Paul, cries outside the governor's residence in St. Paul, Minn., on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Castile was shot and killed after a traffic stop by police in Falcon Heights, Wednesday night. A video shot by Reynolds of the shooting went viral. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS—A suburban St. Paul police officer who killed a black driver pulled the man over in part because he believed he resembled a suspect in a robbery, his attorney said.

Philando Castile had no felony record and authorities have not said he was wanted in any crime. But Officer Jeronimo Yanez thought Philando Castile looked like someone police had been seeking in a recent robbery, Minneapolis attorney Thomas Kelly told the Star Tribune on Sunday.

“All he had to have was reasonable suspicion to pull him over,” Kelly told the newspaper.

Investigators have declined to say what led up to last week’s shooting of the 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor, whose death helped spark protests around the nation, including one in Dallas in which five police officers were killed and several more were wounded.

Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was in the vehicle. She has said Castile was shot several times while reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer he had a gun and a permit to carry it. Reynolds live-streamed the gruesome aftermath of the Wednesday shooting on Facebook.

Kelly told The Associated Press on Saturday that Yanez was reacting to the seeing that gun, not Castile’s race, when he drew his own weapon. The attorney did not immediately return messages left early Monday.

Albert Goins, a Minneapolis attorney who has worked with Castile’s family, said that if Yanez and the officer with him, Joseph Kauser, believed they were pulling over a suspect in a violent crime, they should not have approached the car like a normal traffic stop. They should have been following protocols to take cover and order the driver and passengers out of the car by gunpoint, he said.

“Either (Castile) was a robbery suspect and (Yanez) didn’t follow the procedures for a felony stop, or (Castile) was not a robbery suspect and (Yanez) shot a man because he stood at his window getting his information,” Goins said.

Court records reviewed by the AP show Castile had no felony record but had been pulled over dozens of times since 2002 for a variety of minor offenses. Kelly said Yanez also initiated the traffic stop because Castile’s car had a broken tail light.

Yanez is a four-year veteran of the police department in St. Anthony, a predominantly white St. Paul suburb whose police department also patrols the community of Falcon Heights, where Castile was pulled over.

The day before the shooting, state police released a bulletin seeking the public’s help finding a pair of black men who held up a convenience store less than 2 miles down the same street from where Yanez stopped Castile, in an area also patrolled by St. Anthony police. The men stole cash and Newport cigarettes at gunpoint.

The alert for the July 2 robbery described one of the suspects as having longer dreadlocks and possibly a mustache, and the second as having shoulder-length dreadlocks, a small mustache and some hair on his chin.

Castile had dreadlocks and a goatee, which are visible in the video his girlfriend streamed on Facebook Live in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

In Reynolds’ video, a clearly distraught person who appears to be a police officer stands at the car’s window, tells Reynolds 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.

Yanez and another officer who was with him have been placed on leave, as is standard practice. He is cooperating with investigators, who have interviewed him at length, Kelly said.