By SKIP FOREMAN
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) – Minnesota’s capital kept its cool entering a third straight day of protests over the killing of a black man at the hands of police, with demonstrators encamped outside the governor’s mansion looking set for the long haul.
Authorities in St. Paul had reported just a single arrest of someone who had been in a crowd that at one point numbered 1,500 people, there to demand justice in the death of 32-year-old school cafeteria supervisor Philando Castile during a suburban traffic stop.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who has come out of his residence several times to meet with the protesters, said Friday that he endorsed their right to be there and had no intention of ordering them removed.
Castile was shot several times “for no apparent reason” while reaching for his wallet, after telling the officer he had a gun and a permit to carry it, his girlfriend said as she streamed the immediate aftermath live on Facebook.
Ramsey County Prosecutor John Choi said Friday that the Facebook video is part of what he hoped would be a “prompt and thorough investigation” by the state into Castile’s killing late Wednesday.
The following night, five police officers were fatally shot and others were wounded during protests in Dallas over Castile’s killing and the fatal police shooting of 37-year-old black man Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after a scuffle with officers outside a convenience store. Authorities identified the Dallas shooter as an Army veteran, who was later killed by police.
Sterling’s and Castile’s families have denounced the Dallas officers’ killings.
“My son would not have approved of the shootings,” Valerie Castile told CNN Friday night, “because he believed that all lives matter.”
Choi declined to provide details about Castile’s death or what led up to it, including why Castile was pulled over or why the officer drew his gun. Court records indicate it was at least the 32nd time Castile had been pulled over in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area since 2002.
The prosecutor said the shooting highlighted the need for better interactions between police and black residents.
“We must do better in our state and in our nation to improve police-community interactions to ensure the safety of everyone in this country, but particularly the safety of African Americans, who disproportionately lose their lives as a result,” Choi said.
He also acknowledged the wide reach of the Facebook video, noting “what is depicted in the video, it just makes you sad to watch all of that unfold.”
His comments came a day after Dayton declared that police likely wouldn’t have fired if Castile’s skin were a different color.
“Would this have happened if those passengers would have been white? I don’t think it would have,” Dayton said to the crowd outside his residence Thursday. Dayton said Friday that he stood by his statements and had no new information about the case, even as the head of a law enforcement organization ripped his comments as reckless.
Castile was shot in Falcon Heights, a mostly white community of 5,000 served primarily by the nearby St. Anthony Police Department.
In the video she streamed Wednesday night on Facebook Live, Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, describes being pulled over for a “busted tail light.” The video shows her in a car next to a bloodied Castile slumped in a seat.
A clearly distraught person who appears to be a police officer stands at the car’s window, tells her 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.
State investigators said the two officers involved were Jeronimo Yanez and Joseph Kauser, both four-year veterans of the St. Anthony Police Department, with Yanez identified as the shooter. Both were put on administrative leave, as is standard.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said several videos, including squad car video, have been collected, though St. Anthony officers don’t wear body cameras.
The bureau did not give the officers’ races. Reynolds described the officer who shot Castile as Asian; the St. Anthony Police Department’s 2015 annual report notes Yanez is a member of the National Latino Police Officers Association.
The previous year’s report includes a photo of Yanez solemnly standing guard at a memorial to fallen officers at the state Capitol.
Yanez’s attorney, Thomas Kelly, hasn’t returned messages from The Associated Press but told the Star Tribune newspaper that his client is cooperating with the probe and remains distraught over what happened.
“He’s very upset about this terrible tragedy,” Kelly said Friday. “He’s very saddened about the loss to Philando’s family and recognizes the tragedy of the whole event.”
Associated Press writers Jeff Baenen in St. Paul, Steve Karnowski and Kyle Potter in Minneapolis and researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.
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