2 officers in black man’s fatal shooting won’t be charged

March 27, 2018
FILE - In this July 6, 2016 file photo, photos of Alton Sterling are taped to the wall at a makeshift memorial outside the Triple S convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. Sterling, was shot and killed outside the store where he was selling CDs by Baton Rouge police. On Tuesday, March 27, 2018, Louisiana's attorney general ruled out criminal charges against two white Baton Rouge police officers in the fatal shooting of Sterling. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana’s attorney general ruled out criminal charges Tuesday against two white Baton Rouge police officers in the shooting of a black man whose death led to widespread protests nearly two years ago.

Attorney General Jeff Landry’s decision came nearly 11 months after the Justice Department ruled out federal criminal charges in Alton Sterling’s July 2016 death.

Officer Blane Salamoni shot and killed Sterling during a struggle outside a convenience store where the 37-year-old black man was selling homemade CDs. Officer Howie Lake II helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn’t fire his gun. Two cellphone videos of the shooting quickly spread on social media, prompting large protests.

Landry made the announcement of no charges at a news conference after meeting with family members of Sterling. They angrily denounced the decision.

Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling’s children, Cameron, said the officers killed Sterling “in cold blood.”

“They took a human away. They took a father away. They took somebody away that did not deserve to be away,” she said.

Landry said his office reviewed all of the evidence compiled by the Justice Department and also conducted its own interviews of witnesses.

“I know the Sterling family is hurting,” Landry told reporters. “I know that they may not agree with the decision.”

Toxicology and urine test results released Tuesday showed Sterling had cocaine, methamphetamine, fentanyl and other drugs in his system at the time. Landry said it was “reasonable” to conclude Sterling was under the influence of drugs during the struggle “and that contributed to his non-compliance” with the officers’ commands.

Landry didn’t take any questions from reporters.

A lawyer for two of Sterling’s five children slammed the report as biased. L. Chris Stewart said investigators did not follow up with witnesses and relied heavily on two outside experts who reviewed evidence collected by federal investigators. He also criticized the decision to put Sterling’s criminal history into the report, saying that had nothing to do with the case.

The officers’ body cameras and a store surveillance camera also recorded the encounter. Those videos haven’t been released, but Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he intends to release both after he concludes the disciplinary process for the two officers, who have remained on paid administrative leave since the July 5, 2016, shooting. He hopes to complete the process Friday.

A lawyer for Lake said his client should remain on the police force. Attorney Kyle Kershaw said Lake’s actions during the encounter complied with police procedure.

Salamoni’s attorney, John McLindon, called it “grossly unfair” that a disciplinary hearing is planned less than a week after the end of the criminal investigation.

McLindon said he expects his client will be fired.

“I believe it’s a foregone conclusion,” McLindon said. “The decision has already been made.”

Residents at the convenience store where Sterling was killed said they weren’t surprised by Landry’s decision. Le’Roi Dunn, a 40-year-old cook, gestured at the spot where Sterling was killed and said it was wrong for the officers to avoid any charges.

“It hurts, though, to see them get away and go on with their lives,” Dunn said.

State and federal authorities said Salamoni yelled that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket before shooting him three times, and then fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move. A 34-page report by Landry’s office said it’s “important to note” that Sterling’s hands were concealed from the officers as he sat up and rolled away from Salamoni.

The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket. As a convicted felon, Sterling could not legally carry a gun.

Video footage shows Sterling threatening someone with a firearm before the officers respond to a report of a man with a gun outside the Triple S Food Mart, according to Landry’s report.

The officers told Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car and struggled with him when he didn’t comply, Landry’s office said. Sterling continued to resist after Salamoni drew his weapon and threatened to shoot him in the head if he didn’t stop moving, according to Landry’s report. Lake shocked Sterling with a stun gun twice before the officers wrestled him down, investigators said.

Federal authorities concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to prove Salamoni or Lake willfully deprived Sterling of his civil rights, or that the officers’ use of force was objectively unreasonable.

The shooting came amid increased scrutiny of fatal encounters between police and black men. The next day Philando Castile was shot and killed in Minnesota by police officer and the aftermath was streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend. The same week, five police officers were killed in Dallas during a protest against police shootings.

Racial tensions were still simmering in Louisiana’s capital when a 29-year-old black military veteran shot and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers on July 17, 2016.

Last year, lawyers for Sterling’s five children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge, its police department and former police chief, and the two officers involved. Their suit alleges the shooting fit a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force by the Baton Rouge police.

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