Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II won’t be charged for incident that occured in July of 2016 that sparked unrest throughout Baton Rouge
This article titled “Alton Sterling shooting: two police officers will not be charged with any crime” was written by Jamiles Lartey in New Orleans, for The Guardian on Tuesday 27th March 2018 17.41 UTC
The two police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in July 2016 in Baton Rouge will not be charged with any crime, the Louisiana attorney general announced on Tuesday. Prior to the decision, police were already preparing for city-wide protests in response.
“After a thorough and exhaustive review of the evidence … the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either officer,” said Jeff Landry at a morning press conference, after meeting members of Sterling’s family privately.
“This decision was not taken lightly, we came to this conclusion after countless hours of reviewing the evidence,” he said.
Sterling, a 37-year-old black father of five, was shot six times by officer Blane Salamoni on 5 July 2016. The confrontation between Sterling and Salamoni and officer Howie Lake II, who are both white, was captured on video and sparked unrest throughout the summer of 2016.
In a press conference immediately after Landry’s, Sterling’s family expressed deep frustration and called for voters to eject the attorney general and other elected officials.
“We don’t cry no more, that’s why you don’t see tears,” said Sandra Sterling, an aunt of Alton Sterling. “I’m going to get my justice from a higher power. Shame on you. You took an oath to protect and serve, not to protect and kill.”
The two officers were cleared by the federal Department of Justice in July last year but they remained legally in limbo, on paid leave for more than 20 months, as the state investigation continued. Sterling’s family filed a civil suit against the city of Baton Rouge, which is still pending.
According to investigation documents, Salamoni and Lake were dispatched in the early morning hours after an anonymous caller indicated that a man wearing a red shirt and selling CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart had threatened him with a gun.
Investigators said Salamoni drew his handgun and pointed it at Sterling’s head within 20 seconds of arriving on the scene. According to federal officials, as related by Sterling’s family and attorney, the officer said to Sterling something to the effect of “I’m going to kill you, bitch”.
According to the official account of the incident, the officers tried to tackle Sterling and deploy a stun gun. While in a scuffle on the ground, officers believed Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket. Salamoni drew his weapon and fired three shots to Sterling’s chest, then three more as he rolled over.
Store owner Abdullah Muhlafi, who considered Sterling a friend and allowed him to sell CDs out front, recorded the incident. Muhlafi told reporters that though Sterling was carrying a handgun in his pocket or waistband, he never had it in his hands.
The officers said they did not have control of Sterling’s right arm as they attempted to arrest him, and that they believed his hand was moving towards the weapon.
“Throughout the encounter the officers attempted several non-lethal techniques to gain control of Mr Sterling’s hands,” Landry said on Tuesday. “The officers’ concern that he was armed and dangerous was in fact subsequently verified and correct.”
After details of the incident emerged last summer, Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome called for Salamoni’s resignation. Addressing reporters on Tuesday alongside police chief Murphy Paul, she did not back down from that demand.
Paul said he would conduct an administrative review within the next week, to determine if the officers violated policy and if they should be subject to discipline.
“We understand no matter what the decisions are that there are parts of our community that are hurting,” he said.
Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement he supported the administrative review, adding: “We owe this final review to the Baton Rouge community and the Sterling family.”
Attorneys for the Sterling family said they were not surprised by the outcome of the state investigation but were very disappointed. Lamenting “a very biased report”, they noted that several eyewitnesses – including Muhlafi – were not re-interviewed.
The Baton Rouge Advocate reported late on Monday that the Louisiana authorities had begun “protest operations”, mobilizing officers from elsewhere in the state. “Some troopers were being told to pack eight days worth of clothing,” the newspaper reported.
Sterling’s death was followed the next day by the death of Philando Castile, shot dead by police in Minnesota, prompting questions about how police perceive black Americans who own guns.
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