Philando Castile's Mom Calls for Peace After 21 Minn. Officers Injured in Violent Weekend Protest

A police spokesman, speaking to PEOPLE, was adamant the violence was neither lead nor endorsed by the local arm of the larger social movement Black Lives Matter

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Photo: Annabelle Marcovici/AP

Fifty people were arrested this weekend and nearly two dozen officers were injured – some hit with concrete, fireworks and rebar – in a heated, hours-long police shooting protest in St. Paul, Minnesota, officials tell PEOPLE.

The St. Paul city attorney described the overnight events Saturday into Sunday as a “full-scale riot,” according to the Star Tribune. But police representative Steve Linder, speaking to PEOPLE, was adamant the violence was neither led nor endorsed by the local arm of the larger social movement Black Lives Matter.

“It comes back to this: The vast majority of protestors in St. Paul are peaceful and we have good relations with them,” Linder says. “We might not always agree with them, our officers might not always agree with them, but we respect their right to express themselves.”

“What happened this weekend was certainly an anomaly and I want to make it clear that Black Lives Matter St. Paul did not lead this on the freeway nor did they endorse it,” Linder says.

In fact, he says “The leader was working to bring it to an end.”

Linder says the 50 protestors were arrested and held over the weekend on suspicion of third-degree rioting. The St. Paul city attorney told the Star-Tribune he is reviewing the evidence before deciding on charges, but is weighing rioting among the possibilities.

Linder says 21 officers were injured from multiple agencies, including Minnesota State Police and St. Paul police. He says the injuries included contusions, dislocated shoulders and “a lot of bumps, bruises and scrapes” – and, most seriously, a fractured vertebrae, suffered by a male officer with University of Minnesota police.

“People [were] dropping concrete blocks on our officers’ heads from an overpass,” Linder says. “We had people shooting fireworks directly into officers’ faces.”

Bottles, rocks and rebar were thrown, Linder says, and liquid was dumped on officers.

Two Molotov cocktails were unsuccessfully lit and tossed, but “went out when they were thrown into the air,” Linder says.

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Officers were leading what they had been told would be a peaceful march Saturday night to Falcon Heights, a St. Paul suburb, Linder says. “We were lied to.”

About 7 p.m. local time the protestors took over part of I-94, blocking traffic, including driving a truck onto the freeway that had children inside, Linder says.

Linder says the protest became violent after the first 45 minutes or hour. At least 25 dispersal orders were given, he says, and the freeway was reopened hours later, about 1:30 a.m., following the arrests.

In a separate incident early Sunday in St. Paul, 52 people were arrested for unlawful assembly and public nuisance after protesting in the street, Linder says.

That protest was peaceful, he says.

The demonstrations and violence came in the wake of the controversial police shooting last week of Philando Castile, who authorities have said was killed during a traffic stop Thursday in Falcon Heights.

In a Sunday statement following the weekend’s unrest, Castile’s mother, Valerie, decried the violence as counter to the pursuit of justice.

“When demonstrations become violent, it disrespects my son and his memory,” she said in the statement, according to the Star Tribune. “Philando was a man of peace and dignity. Please, I ask you to at all times remain peaceful in your expressions of concern regarding his death at the hands of the police. I promise that we will not rest until justice prevails.”

Attorney for Officer in Castile’s Shooting: ‘This Has Nothing to Do with Race’

According to dramatic live video from inside the vehicle moments afterward, Castile’s fiancé said Castile was shot during the traffic stop after he told officers he was carrying a firearm (for which he had a permit) and after he was asked to produce his license.

She said there was “no reason” for the officer, later identified as St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez, to start shooting.

But Yanez’s attorney told the Star Tribune his client was reacting to Castile’s actions: “This has nothing to do with race, and everything to do with the presence of a gun. Deadly force would not have been used if not for the presence of a gun.”

Yanez’s attorney also told the paper that Yanez thought Castile looked like an armed robbery suspect, which is partially why he was stopped – a claim the Castile family dismissed.

“Either [Castile] was a robbery suspect and [Yanez] didn’t follow the procedures for a felony stop, or [Castile] was not a robbery suspect and [Yanez] shot a man because he stood at his window getting his information,” attorney Albert Goins, who has worked with the Castile family since the shooting, told the Star Tribune.

“A felony stop does not usually involve officers walking up to your car and asking you to produce your driver’s license,” Goins told the paper. “A felony stop involves bringing the suspect out at gunpoint while officers are in a position of cover and having them lie on the ground until they can identify who that individual is.”

Both Yanez and partner Joseph Kauser have been placed on leave pending the investigation, as is standard, a spokeswoman with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says.

The BCA, which has assumed the shooting investigation, declined comment to PEOPLE, citing its ongoing review.

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