As the nation grappled with the killing of Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge police, a woman in a St. Paul, Minnesota, suburb is searching for answers after she watched a cop kill her boyfriend in the car they were in together.
In the moments after a routine traffic stop that ended in the shooting of her boyfriend, Lavish Reynolds took to Facebook Live to tell their story. According to Reynolds, recording beside her dying boyfriend in a car with her 4-year-old daughter in the backseat, an officer demanded to see his license and registration. Her boyfriend, 32-year-old Philando Castile, a cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul, informed the patrolman that he was carrying a licensed firearm and that he was reaching for his identification.
Moments later, according to Reynolds, the officer unleashed four to five shots, striking her boyfriend in the arm.
“Stay with me,” she says to Castile. “Stay with me… We got pulled over for a busted taillight in the back.”
The officer can be heard saying, “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand out.”
Reynolds, maintaining her composure, immediately corrects the patrolman, noting his directive to Castile to produce a driver’s license and vehicle registration.
Growing in distress, but ever mindful of her duty to fully capture the incident, she later says, “Police shot him for no apparent reason… No reason at all.”
The recording continues as Reynolds and her daughter leave the car and are placed in the back of a squad car. In custody, the young girl tries to comfort her mother, saying, “It’s OK, Mommy. I’m here with you.”
The shooting comes on the heels of another high-profile killing of a black man, in Louisiana. Alton Sterling was selling bootleg CDs outside a convenience store when he was accosted by local police officers. Sterling, who offered no resistance, was immediately tackled and pinned to the ground. He suffered multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back. The Justice Department, in a rare move, immediately took charge of the investigation.
In the recording, Reynolds repeatedly voices her concern that her boyfriend would die.
“We are innocent people, Lord,” she prays and weeps out loud. “We are innocent people.”
Castile’s family confirmed he died shortly after the Live recording ended.
According to Reynolds’s account, Castile complied with the officer’s commands, has no criminal record, and was licensed to carry a gun.
The stream begins with the man slumped over next to Reynolds. His white T-shirt is soiled with blood and he appears to be fading in and out of conscious. All the while, the officer—whom Reynolds identifies as possibly “Chinese” and heavy set—continues to train his service revolver at Castile, even though the shooting victim poses no discernible threat. No medical aid is rendered in the video.
Reynolds keeps talking, panning the camera between Castile and the unidentified officer who is visible through the window. At times, she speaks directly into the camera.
The young black woman recounts the incident line by line on the newly launched live-streaming platform. She is fearful, if the tape is any indication, and takes caution to address the officer, and those who respond later, in formal tones. Her cellphone is confiscated at one point and tossed away. The video captures the blue sky above and the power lines, but the audio does not stop.
She is heard crying, pleading to know if her boyfriend survived. The officers offer no answer.
According to her account, Reynolds and her daughter were then detained in a squad car at the corner of Larpenteur Avenue and Fry Street. Reynolds, who was handcuffed, is heard repeatedly questioning the officer’s actions.
She says they were stopped for a broken taillight. At times crying and at others answering officer questions, it is clear that Reynolds wants the world to know what happened in real time. As of this writing, over 500,000 social media users have viewed the video.
The ubiquitous nature of smartphones with video capability has delivered new insight into police violence. Unlike police body camera images, which are subject with Freedom of Information Act requests in most jurisdictions, bystander video is often directly uploaded to the internet where it can be viewed and shared unfettered. That means cases like Sterling’s and that of Reynolds’s boyfriend see the light of day in a speedier and unedited manner.
A contemporaneous account, like the one Reynolds rendered, is treated like a time-stamped diary and is generally admissible as evidence—for internal investigations, as well as criminal and civil proceedings.
Castile was “licensed to carry,” Reynolds says repeatedly, and was “trying to get out his ID.” She further explains that he was letting “the officer know he had a firearm, and he was reaching for his wallet, and the officer just shot him... He just shot his arm off.”
The video stream was removed from Facebook shortly after midnight on Thursday, but not before media outlets were able to capture and distribute the horrific footage. Facebook has now reinstated it.
Crowds of demonstrators had already begun to flood the streets of Falcon Heights late Wednesday night, standing just yards from where police were collecting shells at the scene of the crime.
“We will stand our ground,” they chanted. “We will not move.”