Officials to announce federal decision in Alton Sterling case

Officials to announce federal decision in Alton Sterling case

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Officials with the Department of Justice will hold a press conference Wednesday at 1 p.m. to release its decision regarding possible civil rights violations against Alton Sterling. Governor John Bel Edwards and Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome will also hold a press conference after the Department of Justice releases its decision.

The mothers of Alton Sterling's five children and their attorneys,  L. Chris Stewart, Justin Bamberg, Dale Glover, Mike Adams and Brandon DeCuir, will speak out at noon following their meeting with the Dept. of Justice.

WAFB will air these announcements on the broadcast and will stream it live at this link and on our Facebook page.

The federal criminal probe into the police shooting of Alton Sterling involves many layers but, in the end, the result of the probe will likely be confined to answering only one question: whether the officers involved will or will not face any federal criminal charges.

Sterling, 37, was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge police officer last July after two officers were called to a convenience store to investigate a report of a man threatening another man with a gun. One of several videos of the shooting appears to show one officer remove a gun from Sterling's pocket immediately after the shooting.

If the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) finds there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers violated Sterling's civil rights, they will announce what is called a "declination of charges," meaning they are declining to pursue charges. On the other hand, if they have found such evidence, they will announce that the officers have been indicted on federal criminal civil rights charges. An indictment announcement would require that the evidence has already been put before a federal grand jury.

In some cases, but not this one, the federal Civil Rights Division conducts a civil investigation into whether a police department has engaged in "patterns and practices" in violation of civil rights laws. These civil investigations often result in a lengthy set of written directives from the Civil Rights Division about improvements or overhauls needed within the department. This type of investigation did not occur with the Baton Rouge police department related to the Sterling case.

In the federal system, the DOJ requires prosecutors only bring forward cases they believe they can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

In considering whether to prosecute someone with a civil rights violation, all four of the following criteria must be met beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. Was the person acting as a government official (such as a police officer)?
  2. Did the person act unreasonably (did they commit the act with no good reason)?
  3. Did they act willfully to violate the person’s civil rights (meaning the person knew what they were doing was wrong and was a violation of civil rights)?
  4. Was there any injury of some sort?

Regardless of the decision made on a federal level, the Sterling case will next go to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office. That agency will be asked to determine whether the officers involved should face any state criminal charges. One example of a possible state criminal charge is manslaughter.

State prosecutors say their investigation has not yet started because they will not receive evidence in the case from the feds until the federal probe is over.

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