Was Philando Castile an armed robbery suspect when he was pulled over and shot last week?
The case of the Minnesota man gunned down by police appeared to take a bizarre twist when reports emerged that he may have been the suspect in an armed robbery at the time that police initially pulled him over. Castile’s killing reverberated across the country because of the seemingly innocuous circumstances — a video taken by his girlfriend immediately after the shooting claimed that Castile had been compliant with police and was reaching for his driver’s license when he was shot.
The story emerging this weekend that Castile was in fact the suspect in an armed robbery shattered that narrative — or so it seemed. Though a newly released police radio showed that the officer who pulled over Castile believed he fit the description of an armed robber, it turned out that Philando Castile was never the suspect, and that his death now appears to have stemmed from what was initially a case of mistaken identity.
Many conservative blogs had already run with the story that Philando Castile was an armed robbery suspect. The most popular came from The Conservative Treehouse, which ran a story titled, “Confirmed — Philando Castile Was an Armed Robbery Suspect — False Media Narrative Now Driving Cop Killings” in which it claimed that the original story was “based around an entirely false narrative.”
The radio dispatch from police officer Jeronimo Yanez, the one who would end up shooting Philando Castile, was cited as proof that the man was a robbery suspect.
“I’m going to stop a car. I’m going to check IDs. I have reason to pull it over.
“The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery. The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ’cause of the wide set nose.”
But at no point did police determine that Philando Castile was an armed robbery suspect, only that he vaguely matched the description of someone who had robbed a store days before.
Thomas Kelly, an attorney representing the officer who shot Castile, told the Star Tribune (via the New York Post) that the similar description for Castile and the robbery suspect made the traffic stop justified.
“All he had to have was reasonable suspicion to pull him over,” Kelly said.
In fact, new evidence emerged shows that Castile may be an example of the overreach by police officers, especially against black people. An Associated Press report noted that he had been pulled over at least 52 times in recent years, with a number of citations for minor offenses including speeding and not wearing a seatbelt. Of the 86 violations, more than half were dismissed, the report found.
“Was Castile an especially bad driver or just unlucky? Or was he targeted by officers who single out black motorists like him for such stops, as several of his family members have alleged?
“The answer may never be known, but Castile’s stop for a broken tail light Wednesday ended with him fatally shot by a suburban St. Paul police officer, and Castile’s girlfriend livestreaming the chilling aftermath.”
The report from The Conservative Treehouse implied that the “false” narrative of Castile as a law-abiding citizen had a direct correlation on the shooting in Dallas the following day that left five police officers dead.
The report also seemed to tie Castile’s killing to that of Michael Brown, the teenager killed in Ferguson, Missouri, that sparked a nationwide protest. Though Brown was unarmed, he had reportedly struggled and reached for the gun of officer Darren Wilson, and it was later revealed that Brown was suspected of robbing a store shortly before the encounter.
The story painting Philando Castile as an armed robbery suspect was quite popular. Many people shared the story online, helping it to go viral on social media.
[Image via Allysza Castile]