The deadly shooting of 32-year-old Philando Castile by a cop during a routine traffic stop in Minnesota on Wednesday just got murkier.
Multiple sources have told The Register that police removed video footage of Castile's death from Facebook, potentially tampering with evidence.
Castile, his girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter were pulled over by police in the Falcon Heights suburb of Minneapolis for a broken tail light. Using her cellphone and Facebook Live, Reynolds web-streamed footage of her dying boyfriend after he was shot by a police officer as he reached for his ID in his wallet. The video was mysteriously removed from her Facebook profile as it went viral across the internet.
On Thursday, Facebook said a “technical glitch" caused the recording to be pulled from its social network. However, Reynolds claimed officers seized her phone and took over her Facebook account to hide the evidence.
Multiple sources with knowledge of the event have tonight confirmed to The Register that someone – highly suspected to be the city's police – used her phone to remove her recording from public view shortly after the shooting. This was no technical glitch.
That vanishing act prevented anyone from sharing and watching the vid, until the material was restored about an hour later with a graphic content warning. In the meantime, copies of the footage spread across Twitter and YouTube.
“Everyone who shared my video, they don't want you guys to be a part of this. They don’t want us to support each other. They’re going to tamper with evidence. This is not right, this is not acceptable. A police officer should not to be able to gun a man down for no reason.”
A spokesperson for the Falcon Heights police department was not available for comment. Separately, it was suggested the video was accidentally disappeared by Facebook moderators after the footage was flagged by viewers, and restored later, but this has not been confirmed.
This isn’t going away
At a press conference on Thursday, the US state’s Democratic governor Mark Dayton said he was appalled by the killing, adding that had Castile been white he would still be alive today. There was a troubling pattern of racism in the police force, he said, and this would be investigated.
"I can't say how shocked I am and deeply, deeply offended that this would happen to somebody in Minnesota," Dayton said grimly. "No one should be shot in Minnesota for a taillight being out of function. No one should be killed in Minnesota while seated in their car."
Reynolds said she was held in a police station until 3am on Thursday before her boyfriend’s death was confirmed, and two hours later she was dropped off at home by a squad car.
“The images we've seen this week are graphic and heartbreaking, and they shine a light on the fear that millions of members of our community live with every day,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
“While I hope we never have to see another video like Diamond's, it reminds us why coming together to build a more open and connected world is so important -- and how far we still have to go.”
Who watches the watchmen? We do
The growth of cellphone video recording has been a potent force in exposing some of the worst excesses of criminals and those who are supposed to uphold the law.
The savage beating of Rodney King, caught on a home video camera in 1991, sparked the LA riots, but this was just a precursor to the spread of images and video captured by mobile phone cameras.
In the past few years we’ve seen police officers and crooks being caught on cellphones and home security cams breaking the law. The recordings have proved to be much more reliable as evidence than eyewitness accounts of serious wrongdoing.
Attempts to arm the police with cameras that would protect them from claims of wrongdoing have been stymied by the astonishingly high rate of failure in the hardware designed to protect them.
At the same time, cellphone footage of actual arrests and killings have served as damning evidence against claims of legitimate takedowns by officers. In multiple cases police have confiscated smartphones from bystanders.
As more and more people get the means to broadcast events live, this issue is going to come to the fore. The US courts have waxed and waned over whether citizens have the right to record public police arrests – however, the deletion of evidence is a definite no-no.
“All Americans should recognize the anger, frustration, and grief that so many Americans are feeling -- feelings that are being expressed in peaceful protests and vigils. Michelle and I share those feelings,” said President Obama in a Facebook message on Thursday.
“Rather than fall into a predictable pattern of division and political posturing, let's reflect on what we can do better. Let's come together as a nation, and keep faith with one another, in order to ensure a future where all of our children know that their lives matter." ®