What We Know About Fatal Police Shootings Of Alton Sterling And Philando Castile

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It happened again.

And then again.

In two days, two new police shootings that left two black men dead.

Both incidents were captured in graphic, fragmented cellphone camera videos that provided viewers shocking but incomplete pictures of how Louisiana resident Alton Sterling and Minnesotan Philando Castile lost their lives.

In a twist, both cases involved black men who were armed at the time of their encounters with the police, though neither man was brandishing his weapon, according to initial reports from witnesses. One of the men was reportedly a gun aficionado licensed to carry a weapon.

The new incidents have reinvigorated calls for stricter oversight of the use of force by police and renewed questions about how much clarity video footage can provide in these incidents.

Here’s what we know about the fatal shootings so far.

THE DECEASED

Alton Sterling, above right, and Philando Castile, above left, may have had less in common in life than they did in death.

Sterling, 37, was a Baton Rouge-based father of five who worked part-time as a cook and often sold CDs outside the Triple S convenience store to raise additional funds, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. He also had a long history of run-ins with the law.

He was a registered sex offender, convicted in 2000 of one count of carnal knowledge of a juvenile, according to the Advocate, and previously pleaded guilty to several crimes dating back to 1996, including aggravated battery, damage to property, and domestic abuse battery.

The Advocate reported that he had resided for the last few months at the Living Waters Outreach Ministries, a transitional living center for people who had recently left prison and were attempting to get back on their feet. Sterling was reportedly released from jail six months ago.

Despite his checkered past, family and community members praised him as a “very nice guy” who “helped a lot of people.”

Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling’s eldest child, said at a Wednesday press conference that he was “a man who was simply trying to earn a living to take care of his children.” 15-year-old Cameron Sterling wept uncontrollably at her side and called out for his father.

Less was immediately known publicly about Castile, 32, a St. Paul resident who worked as a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, according to the school’s website. He graduated from St. Paul Central High School and said on his Facebook page that he attended the University of Minnesota. His uncle Clarence Castile told KARE that he was an “upstanding young man” and “gun guy” with an interest in firearms.

Both men died from multiple gunshots fired by police. Sterling was fatally shot outside the Triple S store early Tuesday morning while hawking CDs and died at the scene. Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was with him at the time, said he was struck with several bullets during a traffic stop in the neighborhood of Falcon Heights on Wednesday evening. He died at approximately 9 p.m. at Hennepin County Medical Center.

WHETHER VICTIMS WERE ARMED

The victims’ firearms possession was central to both incidents. Police were initially called to the Baton Rouge convenience store where Sterling was selling CDs after an anonymous caller to 911 reported that he had been threatened with a gun by a man wearing a red shirt. A senior law enforcement official told CNN that the call came from a homeless man who had repeatedly approached Sterling asking him for money, eventually prompting Sterling to show the man his weapon. Triple S owner Abdul Muflahi, who was on good terms with Sterling and allowed him to sell CDs outside his store for years, told the Advocate that Sterling recently started carrying a gun after his friend was mugged.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, Jr., confirmed to CNN that Sterling had a gun on him when officers arrived at the scene. In cellphone videos of the shooting captured by bystanders, one of the two officers can be heard yelling, “He’s got a gun!” Then Sterling was shot. It’s not yet clear if one or both officers opened fire. After the shooting, one officer can be seen pulling an object from Sterling’s right pants pocket, though it is unclear what it is. Muflahi told the Advocate that Sterling’s gun remained in his pocket during the altercation and that he made no attempt to use it. It is unclear whether he had a license to own the firearm.

In the Minnesota incident, Castille was also armed and reportedly told police as much. After Castile was pulled over for what Reynolds, his girlfriend, called a “busted” taillight, he was asked to present his license and registration. Reynolds, who posted video of the immediate aftermath of incident on Facebook Live, said that Castile then told police that he had a firearm on him that he was licensed to carry. Reynolds claimed that officers then opened fire on Castile as he reached for his wallet to get his ID. Police in St. Anthony, whose jurisdiction includes Falcon Heights, have not yet presented their version of events, but Sgt. Jon Mangseth said in a press conference that a gun had been recovered from the scene.

THE VIDEOS

Grainy, shaky cellphone videos of both incidents have gone viral since they were posted online. No official police footage has been released of either shooting. The moments in which Sterling was shot were caught on tape by bystanders from different angles, while Reynolds recorded video explaining what transpired moments after Castile was struck with multiple gunshots.

According to the Washington Post, the first 48-second clip of Sterling’s shooting was filmed from a car window by two members of Stop the Killing Inc., an anti-violence group. The members had heard police scanner traffic about a potentially violent disturbance and arrived in time to capture video of Sterling’s final moments. Two officers, later identified as Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake II, can be seen ordering Sterling to “get on the ground.” They wrestled him against a silver sedan before pulling him onto the ground on his back and pinning him down. One officer screamed “He’s got a gun! Gun!” The other officer drew a weapon and pointed it at Sterling’s chest at point-blank range, saying, “You fucking move, I swear to God!” The officer closer to the camera fired one shot, and additional shots can then be heard going off in quick succession.

Another video by store owner Muflahi shows the moments after Sterling was forced to the ground from much a closer perspective. In the 35-second clip, Sterling appeared to lie prone after the officers order him not to move. A second later, the first shot rang out. The video also showed the officer removing an object from Sterling’s pocket as he lay on the ground with a large blood stain on his chest.

Corporal L’Jean McKneely said that both officers were wearing body cameras at the time but that they had come loose during the confrontation, according to CNN. Dashcam footage and store surveillance of the incident were recorded but have not yet been released.

The video evidence was sparser yet similarly gruesome in Castile’s shooting. Reynolds’ Facebook Live footage began with Castile slumped over in the driver’s seat, covered in blood, eyes towards the ceiling. Narrating as she recorded the video, Reynolds recounted that they were pulled over for a “busted tail light.” Reynolds is then heard asking an officer, who pointed a weapon through the car window, for the location of her 4-year-old daughter, who was seated in the backseat during the incident. Reynolds continued recording as she was told to get on her knees and then handcuffed outside the car on the sidewalk as an ambulance can be heard drawing near. Reynolds grew increasingly agitated, praying that Castile was not “gone.”

“He was reaching for his license and registration. You told him to get it, sir! You told him,” Reynolds said. “He tried to tell you he was licensed to carry and he was going to take it off.”

The video ended with Reynolds sitting in the back of a squad car. The officer who shot Castile has not been identified, though Mangseth, the interim police chief, said he was believed to have “in excess of five years” on the force. St. Anthony police have not yet said whether the officer was wearing a body camera or had the dashcam on his car turned on.

REACTION AND BACKLASH

The videos of both shootings prompted an immediate backlash, with impromptu protests springing up at the sites where Sterling and Castile were shot and state officials calling for investigations.

Soon after the news broke on Wednesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) expressed “very serious concern” over the “disturbing” incident, as the Times-Picayune reported. He announced that the FBI and Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division would lead the investigation into Sterling’s death, along with the Middle District of Louisiana U.S. Attorney’s office. Louisiana State Police are providing assistance, Edwards said.

Salamoni and Lake, the officers involved in the shooting, have been placed on administrative leave, according to CNN. This wasn’t enough for some in the community, including the local NAACP.

In a Wednesday press conference, the group’s Baton Rouge director, Michael McClanahan, called for police chief Carl Dabadie to be fired, saying Dabadie’s job could not be held by “anybody who allows this type of action to take place.”

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) on Thursday announced that he had asked the White House to compel the Department of Justice to launch an independent investigation into Castile’s death, CNN reported. The Justice Department said it was aware of the situation and “assessing” its next moves.

According to Dayton, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has started collecting evidence and interviewing witnesses in cooperation with St. Anthony police.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that President Barack Obama was “deeply disturbed” by the shootings.

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Notable Replies

  1. The Sterling shooting looks like your standard “police shoot black man for being” that we’ve seen many times before. I doubt that anything is going to be different from all the other shootings, we’re already seeing him denigrated in the press, and he was a black man with a gun so of course he was up to no good.

    The Castile shooting is different, and I really wish we had video of the whole incident. It sounds like this was a licensed gun owner who did what the NRA says to do: identify yourself as a gun licensee and that you have a weapon if you’re pulled over. He was getting his license out, and following all instructions by the officer, who then shot him, clearly out of unjustified fear that Castile was going for his gun to shoot him. If Castile was white he wouldn’t have been shot, the criminalization of black people in police departments got him shot in spite of doing everything right. This is the case that the NRA should be all over: a licensed gun owner shot down by the government out of fear of his gun ownership…of course they aren’t touching it, because their entire modus operandi is selling fear of non-white people taking over to whites in order to sell more guns.

    Both cases are BS of course, and just another marker on the grim path of police shooting black people with little or no motive. I predict no charges in LA…MN might be different because of the government there being run by Democrats and there clearly being no reason for the shooting. I guess we’ll see.

  2. Avatar for rosie rosie says:

    There needs to be some sort of mandatory reporting system and a mechanism to analyze use-of-force especially when a death is involved.

    The DOJ could receive it all and send it for analysis by experts, whom are selected by the DOJ for their expertise and objectivity. This shit of having law enforcement investigating themselves or other close units is effing ridiculous.

    Each state should have a number of use-of-force experts, maybe split by region. They would be the final arbiter of whether force was used properly or misused. If corrective or legal action is warranted, the experts would make those recommendations.

    All of this would roll up to the DOJ, and LE wouldn’t know about any of it until the investigations were complete and the DOJ had an opportunity to review it.

    Clearly, LE isn’t capable of performing their jobs in the US without supervision.

  3. As a black person old enough to have experienced the face of the Old Jim Crow, I can now say this is the face of the New Jim Crow. Not surprised mind you. Since I’ve never bought into the promise of America, I’m not the least bit surprised. The duplicity and hypocrisy of all those American values, has always stood out.

  4. I hate backshooters. You needn’t wonder what will happen to these cops…the will be exonerated, most likely. The same justice system that disproportionately doles out punishment to blacks over whites, will rescue their azzes.

  5. This is disgusting beyond words. If your job is public safety and you’re quaking in you boots that the next black guy you stop in the line of duty is going to gun you down, then, DAMN It, turn in your badge and go get some job flipping burgers out of the line of fire. If you don’t have the guts to do your job right, you don’t belong there. Why the hell when one of these bastards is exonerated aren’t they required to turn in their badge and get a job as a school crossing guard in a lily white neighborhood. And yes, I’m an old white guy who also remembers Jim Crow, hated it and was hoping we were finished with it.

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