On 8 July 2016, the web site Conservative Treehouse published an article that perpetuated several false rumors about the death of Philando Castile, who was shot and killed by police officers during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Among those rumors was the claim that Castile was wanted for armed robbery and was illegally carrying a firearm:
Confirmed – Philando Castile Was an Armed Robbery Suspect – False Media Narrative Now Driving Cop Killings…
The Falcon Heights, Minnesota police shooting of Philando Castile is based around an entirely false narrative. Castile and Ms. Diamond Reynolds (Facebook video uploader) were pulled over by police because Castile matched a BOLO Alert for an armed robbery suspect from four days prior.
Unfortunately, the false statements in the video — which have gone viral, and are being pushed by the mainstream media — have created a backlash against police officers.
The claim that Castile was pulled over because he matched the profile of an armed robbery suspect is based on audio obtained by Minneapolis/St. Paul television station KARE, which purportedly captured officers discussing the reason for the traffic stop before the shooting occurred:
“I’m going to stop a car,” the officer says on the recording. “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 officer says. “The driver looks more like one of our suspects, just ‘cause of the wide set nose,” the officer continues.
Although the KARE report noted that the audio was provided by a viewer and had not been authenticated by officials, the license plate number mentioned in the audio did match Castile’s car, and an alert had been issued about an armed robbery that occurred a few days before the shooting.
But while this audio may document that a police officer thought Castile might have resembled a person wanted for armed robbery, that didn’t mean he was a “suspect” in an armed robbery case or that he was “wanted” for armed robbery, as both phrases imply some form of substantive evidence had specifically tied Castile to the crime. But at the time he was killed, nothing linked Castile to such a crime other than that an officer momentarily thought Castile might have looked a little like someone who had committed a robbery.
The Conservative Treehouse took their shaky narrative a step further, however, and attempted to show that not only was Castile a suspect in an armed robbery case, but he was likely the man who committed the crime. The evidence provided, however, was flimsy at best:
The Conservative Treehouse claimed that the image on the left of the above-displayed graphic shows a gun on Castile’s hip. While most viewers have a hard time even identifying the object seen in this picture, Conservative Treehouse boldly speculated that it was the very same weapon used in the armed robbery pictured on the right:
This hand gun also appears to be the same type of hand gun used in the Convenience Store Armed robbery four days earlier (7/2/16):
This is a far-fetched if not outright false claim. The object pictured on the left of the above-displayed image can hardly be identified as a gun, let alone a specific make and model of gun that can be matched to a blurry a picture of a robbery.
The web site also attempted to prove that Castile was involved in the armed robbery by connecting an image of Diamond Reynolds holding a pack of Newport cigarettes with a news story stating that an armed robber stole cartons of the same brand of cigarettes:
According to a press release from the St. Anthony Police Department, which contracts for police service in Lauderdale, the two robbed the Super USA store in the 2400 block of Larpenteur Avenue around 7:30 p.m., taking cash from the register and cartons of Newport cigarettes.
Of course, the fact that Reynolds was seen holding the same brand of cigarettes that were stolen days prior to her boyfriend’s death is hardly proof of anything. The Newport brand represents more than 10% of the market share for cigarettes, according to the CDC, which consisted of more than 40 million smokers in 2014. This is a trivial detail at best and a coincidence at worst.
The Convservative Treehouse article also perpetuated the rumor that Castile was illegally carrying a firearm:
The above-displayed tweet is real and Conservative Treehouse actually did provide some context for the message. However, they also incorrectly concluded that there was no factual evidence that Castile had a carry permit:
According to a question presented to the local county sheriff who oversees the Concealed Carry Permit process, Mr. Castile had never requested a concealed carry permit (CCCP) from their office:
It is possible a CCP was obtained in another county, however the media are conflating “permit to purchase” with “concealed carry permit”. For some reason the CCP ownership is being amplified; it really has no bearing and is largely irrelevant for the context of the situation. That said, there is no factual evidence Mr. Philando Castile had a CCP.
While this Tweet was used as proof that Castile didn’t have a carry permit (Minnesota actually makes no distinction between open carry and concealed carry), the police station refuted this report on social media:
The police department also linked to a Star Tribune article which had confirmed that Castile indeed had a carry permit:
Philando Castile had a valid permit to carry a gun when he was shot and killed by a St. Anthony police officer, a source confirmed to the Star Tribune.
In the video, Reynolds said Castile told the officer, Jeronimo Yanez, that he had a permit and was carrying a gun. Yanez shot Castile multiple times.
“He’s licensed to carry, he was trying to get his ID, his wallet out of his pocket and he let the officer knew he had a firearm and was reaching for his wallet,” Reynolds said in the video as a bloodied Castile lay in the driver’s seat dying.
Although the names of gun permit holders are not public under state law, a source confirmed Castile was issued the permit when he lived in Robbinsdale.
A copy of the letter that accompanied the issuance of Castile’s carry permit was later posted online.
The Conservative Treehouse article employed a series of half-truths, misleading claims, and unsupported speculation in an attempt to justify the fatal force used by an officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. No real evidence has yet come to light supporting the notion that Castile had been involved in an armed robbery or was carrying a firearm illegally when he was killed.