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Officer Mistook Philando Castile for a Robbery Suspect, Tapes Show

"The two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery," an officer says on police recordings obtained by a Minnesota TV station.
Philando Castile was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minn.
Philando Castile was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop Wednesday in Falcon Heights, Minn.Courtesy Of Castile Family

Audio recordings obtained by a Minnesota television station appear to capture the traffic stop in which Philando Castile was shot to death by a police officer, shedding some light on an encounter that led to nationwide protests and has been cited as a spark for a gunman's ambush of police officers in Dallas.

"I'm going to stop a car," one of the officers calmly begins, according to copies of radio transmissions obtained by KARE-11, an NBC affiliate in Minneapolis/St. Paul. Moments later, the officer reports that his reason to pull the car over was that "the two occupants just look like people that were involved in a robbery." He goes on to explain: "The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just 'cause of the wide-set nose."

The station said it obtained the recordings from a viewer, and determined that the driver's license plate and location matched police accounts of the Wednesday night encounter in the suburb of Falcon Heights. But neither KARE nor NBC News has independently authenticated it.

A lawyer representing the officer who shot Castile told the station on Tuesday that the details included in the recording were accurate, but did not vouch for the tape itself.

Castile's family told the station that the officer's description sounded like racial profiling.

"It's hard to see a flared nostril from a car," Castile's uncle, Clarence Castile, said.

He added, "That's not a good enough excuse to pull somebody over and then end up dead behind it."

The family has hired former judge and television host Glenda Hatchett to represent them.

The recording picks back up following the gunfire. "Shots fired," an officer says, now clearly distressed.

When a dispatcher asks for confirmation, the officer gets more agitated, shouting: "Code 3, shots fired."

Moments later, after being told that medics were on the way, the officer — apparently out of breath — says that a woman has been taken into custody and the driver was being held "at gunpoint."

Law enforcement form a line across Interstate 94 on Saturday, July 9, 2016, in St. Paul, Minn., in response to protesters who blocked the highway.Joe Danborn / AP

The woman, presumably, is Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who broadcast the aftermath on Facebook Live. Her 4-year-old daughter was in the backseat as she spoke to the officer, from neighboring St. Anthony, who fired on Castile, later identified as Jeronimo Yanez. While Yanez approached Castile's car from the driver's side, a second officer, Joseph Kauser, stood on the passenger's side.

Reynolds, narrating while she recorded, said Castile had told the officers he had a licensed gun in the car and was reaching for his wallet when he was shot. Yanez can be heard saying, "I told him not to reach for it." Reynolds responded, "You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver's license."

Castile, 32, was taken to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead, authorities said.

Yanez's lawyer, Tom Kelly, told KARE that Castile was not a suspect in any robbery, but said the officers "had a reasonable suspicion he may match the description of the suspect in the earlier robbery."

That robbery, Kelly said, happened four days earlier about two miles from where the traffic stop occurred, the station reported.

Another reason for the stop was that Castile's car had a brake light out, Kelly told the station.

Kelly added, "This incident is not about race, it's about the presence of a gun. He saw it in the possession of the driver."