Officials release statements regarding DOJ declining charges in - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Officials release statements regarding DOJ declining charges in Sterling case

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

The following statements were made following the official announcement from the Department of Justice that it has decided against pursing charges in the Alton Sterling investigation. 

100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge

Alton Sterling’s death is a tragedy. It is compounded further by the Justice Department’s decision not to bring charges against the officers involved in his death. We respect Alton’s life and mourn the loss to his family and friends. We also state, categorically, that Mr. Sterling’s life mattered. The lives of the young African-American men and women who we mentor, matter and 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge will continue to do everything within its power to help young people reach their full potential. The systematic conditions that led to Mr. Sterling’s tragic death must be met head on with love, compassion, and an unwavering determination to help make all of our communities safe and economically vibrant.

We recognize that the findings released on yesterday are frustrating. However, we urge all people of goodwill to use this moment as a call for greater and more meaningful engagement. It is meaningful and constructive to vent, protest, and fully engage in the democratic process. However, we cannot give in, though, to feelings of impotent rage through acts of violence.  Such action will only endanger our community. 

We call on those who wish to improve the lives of people here at the corner of Fairfield and N. Foster Drive (Baton Rouge, LA) to get directly involved in dismantling injustice. Furthermore, we applaud the leadership of our East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome who early in her administration took steps to execute much needed reforms to the Baton Rouge Police Department, including these five policy changes:

  1. Officers are required to give a verbal warning, before using deadly force, except where there are exigent circumstances.
  2. Officers are required to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force.  De-escalation strategies include disengagement, area containment, waiting out a subject, summoning reinforcements, calling in specialized units or employing other strategies.
  3. Officers will not employ chokeholds or strangleholds, except in emergency circumstances where it is immediately necessary to use deadly force and the authorized weapons are inoperable, inaccessible or otherwise not available.
  4. Officers are prohibited from discharging a firearm at a moving vehicle unless the vehicle or the persons within the vehicle pose an immediate deadly threat to others.
  5. Officers will be required to intervene to prevent another officer from using excessive force and to immediately report when they observe the use of excessive force by another officer

In order for these policies to have their intended effect, the Baton Rouge Police Department and its leadership must take active measures to ensure that those officers that do not comply with these policies will face serious significant discipline. 

The 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge is committed to continuing to engage our youth and families to strengthen our community. We hope that area citizens will answer this call to a crisis and set an example to the nation and the world as they watch. 

One Hundred Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, LTD. is a non-profit organization through which African-American males step forward and assume roles of community leadership, responsibility, and guidance.  Michael Victorian currently serves as the president and chairman of the board.

Urban League of Louisiana

For ten months, the family of Alton Sterling has patiently waited to learn about the fate of Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) officers involved in their loved one's murder. Yesterday, the family and the rest of the world learned through an article published by the Washington Post that the officers would face no federal civil rights charges. The Sterling family deserved to be notified directly by the Department of Justice long before this decision became front-page news in a national media outlet. 

Many have become desensitized to police shootings, and do not feign shock when officers are not held accountable.  Instead, it's chalked up to flaws in the system. However, we must confront the real criminal justice reform that's needed in this country so that our laws do more to actually provide justice rather than shield those with the greatest responsibility to the public from the law. It is incumbent upon us to give our voices and our votes to the continuing battle for equity and justice.  As the Sterling family said today, the battle is not over; it has only just begun.

While bitterly disappointing, the DOJ's announcement comes as no surprise. According to Kelley et. al, (2016) charges are filed in only one percent of fatal shootings involving police. [1] This precedent equates to government sanctioned murder, a status quo the community and the Urban League at large is simply unwilling to accept. So, now all eyes are on Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has released a statement announcing that the Louisiana State Police will launch its own investigation into the conduct of the officers and the appointment of a special prosecutor who will determine if Officers Salamoni and Lake will face criminal charges by the state. While the Urban League fully supports this step, we will be vigilant in our commitment to ensure that a fair and neutral process is conducted in the pursuit of justice for Alton Sterling, his family, and the city of Baton Rouge. We also encourage the BRPD to examine the conduct of these officers to determine if it meets the expectations of the departments' standard of professionalism. Based on new details released in today's press conference by the Sterling family and their attorneys, it appears that there may be grounds for the officers' termination.

ULLA is actively involved in advocating for criminal justice reform and is encouraged by Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome's work to establish new policies within the BRPD regarding use of force guidelines. The League is continuing to pursue its own reform-centered, criminal justice policy agenda, which includes a push for expanded trainings on de-escalation, bias police recognition, crisis intervention, and other pertinent issues.[2] The cost to implement these trainings is far less than the cost of losing a life, settling civil suits, and losing public trust. By providing the law enforcement community with this training, those who are entrusted with securing our public safety will have the tools to execute their role more effectively and safely.  We are also reigniting our call for the establishment of an independent, civilian review board or an independent agency to monitor excessive force complaints, officer-involved shootings and fatal force incidents in East Baton Rouge.

For the past five months, ULLA staff has convened hundreds of community members including law enforcement officials, youth, young professionals, community leaders and a cadre of African American residents in East Baton Rouge to facilitate dialogues generating community-based solutions to address public safety and community-police relations. The League surveyed approximately 200 East Baton Rouge residents about their perceptions and experiences with police. Over 60% of respondents indicated that police do not treat all citizens equally according to the law, 67% agreed that the police do not make enough contact with residents and about 80% indicated that they want police to partner with community members and groups to solve problems in their communities. The Urban League of Louisiana is committed to working with the community to develop partnerships with law enforcement to bring about the necessary change.

Senator John Kennedy (R - Louisiana)

The U.S. Justice Department has spent months reviewing the tragic death of Alton Sterling. Gov. John Bel Edwards asked federal officials to undertake this review to ensure a fair and unbiased decision on whether charges should be brought against the police officers involved in the case. The Justice Department has now decided not to bring charges. Some will agree with the decision; others will not. We should all express our opinions peacefully and respectfully. The murders of Baton Rouge law enforcement officers last summer were the saddest example of what must be avoided. We do not honor anyone by shedding more blood.

Congressman Garret Graves (R - Baton Rouge)

We cannot allow the tragic shootings of 2016 or the fallout to define us or our community, but we can learn from those experiences.

All loss of life is tragic.  We’ve already lost Deputy Brad Garafola, Officer Matthew Gerald, Officer Montrell Jackson and Alton Sterling.  Deputy Nick Tullier is an amazing warrior overcoming all obstacles, but his life is forever changed and Deputy Bruce Simmons continues to recover from being shot.  Nothing good has resulted from these shootings.  Right or wrong, each loss represents a loved one, a friend, a confident, a husband, a community member – a life or part of life suddenly, prematurely, and in many cases, senselessly taken.   

The abundant evidence in this case –video footage, eyewitness accounts and other sources – faced the extensive scrutiny of both President Obama’s Department of Justice and the current Administration’s. Due to the prolific evidence, this decision should have been issued sooner; however, we trust that this decision is the product of a meticulous and fair investigation.

The Capital Region has endured tremendous hardship – this tragedy, an ambush attack on law enforcement, historical flooding and the recent fatal shooting of a Baton Rouge Deputy.  We now have two choices:  1) We can come together as a community, be neighbors and lift one another up as we did in the August flood, or 2) We can, once again, go down the path of violence, death and loss.  Only one makes sense.

I was born and raised in the Baton Rouge area.  What I experienced on July 17 when our officers were shot was unrecognizable.  It was like we were in a foreign country – not home.  An outsider spread his evil and hatred here.  Someone from out of state hijacked our community.  While Baton Rouge has its share of imperfections, we are better than that. 

From here, let’s work with our new mayor to convert the city we have into the city we want. I urge our community to continue to pray for the victims and their families and to pray for peace and understanding.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry (R - Baton Rouge)

Today, the United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) released its findings in the death of Alton Sterling. 

In the hours after this July 5, 2016 tragedy, state and local elected officials – as well as community leaders – requested an independent federal investigation by the USDOJ. That precluded state investigations until the federal investigation concluded.

At this time, and due to the nature of their investigation, my office has not been privy to any investigative materials created and collected by the USDOJ. Therefore, I cannot and will not comment on their findings beyond that they were made after an exhaustive investigation and a thorough review of the evidence.

The USDOJ’s review of this matter was to determine violations of federal law: specifically, federal civil rights laws. To date, this matter has not been investigated or reviewed for possible violations of the Louisiana Criminal Code. 

Therefore, this matter now needs to be investigated for possible state criminal violations. In order to ensure this matter is investigated by the agency with the most expertise in officer-involved shootings – I have directed the USDOJ to securely forward their investigative materials to the Louisiana State Police (LSP) to conduct the state investigation. And I have assigned a prosecutor from the Louisiana Department of Justice to assist.

LSP has a team of investigators who examine officer-involved shootings for Sheriff’s Offices and Police Departments all over the State. They have investigated these types of matters on a routine basis, including their work in Marksville on a case we recently prosecuted against a former deputy marshal. There is no other unit in the State with more experience or more expertise in the use of lethal force by law enforcement agents. Had the USDOJ not been tasked to lead this investigation, there is no doubt LSP would have led the investigation.

It is important for the public to know that this matter will be handled by the most professional and proficient law enforcement use of force team in Louisiana. Once LSP and our assigned prosecutor have reviewed the materials generated by the federal government’s civil rights investigation and have conducted any further investigation necessary – my office will meet with them to review their findings, evaluate the evidence, and make the appropriate prosecutorial decision.

This matter was recused to our office for prosecution by the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney; and we will perform our duties in a timely, prudent, and judicious manner when that time comes. As of now, we consider this matter an open investigation by LSP; therefore, we will make no further comment.

A thorough and complete investigation could take a considerable amount of time; as such, we ask for patience from the public and the press.

Congressman Cedric Richmond 

Today's announcement, and the process that led to it, leaves me extremely disappointed. However, I am convinced the fight for justice for Alton Sterling continues. I grieve for Sandra and the entire Sterling family as they have been forced to relive the horror they experienced more than 10 months ago.

I commend Attorney General Landry's swift decision to pursue an investigation, led by State Police. While the standards for federal charges are extremely high, standards under state law are broader and may be more easily applied to the facts of this case. The Sterling family deserves a thorough, transparent investigation by state officials.

I share the concerns of the Sterling family regarding the way they learned of DOJ's decision. There is no reason they should have read about the decision in the media with no direct contact from Justice officials for days. We deserve better from the department and I look forward to engaging Justice officials, through the relevant oversight committees in Congress, to get to the bottom of this failure of leadership.

LSU President F. King Alexander

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the decision not to prosecute in the Alton Sterling case. The matter will be turned over to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office and State Police. This restarts some of the difficult conversations that began last summer.

As members of the Baton Rouge community, our perspectives are tempered by the efforts and compassion shown by our neighbors during the August floods. Last summer, we learned a lot about each other and the character of our fellow citizens. The world got to see what we see every day: neighbors, friends, family members, and even strangers willing to lend a helping hand or offer a kind word. Those qualities define the very essence of LSU’s community: we are a family, and family takes care of one another.

The University will maintain a safe learning and working environment for our students, faculty, and staff. Campus safety is a priority. We are committed to helping students understand societal challenges, supporting them in expressing themselves in a safe manner if they wish to participate in the public dialogue, and developing future leaders who will help avoid situations like the ones of July 2016.

As we process today’s news and consider our path forward, remember to focus on the things that unite us, not those that divide. Remember what we learned at Moment or Movement: that no matter what the circumstances, we can come together to heal and make progress toward our shared goals. As part of the LSU family, your role in this world is to learn, think, and influence others to make a profound impact on society, and we’re here to support you on every step of that journey.

We will share any information pertinent to the campus community as it becomes available. Good luck on finals, and be kind to one another.

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Barabara Carpenter, Rep. Ted James, Rep. Edmond Jordan, Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, Rep. Patricia H. Smith, Sen. Regina Barrow, and Sen. Yvonne Colomb sent the following letter to Jeff Landry regarding the Sterling decision, asking him to conduct a "thorough and expeditious investigation." The full letter can be read below:

Bishop Robert Muench - Catholic Diocese of Baton Rouge

The United States Department of Justice has handed down its decision. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the decision, one thing remains the same: there is a racial divide in our city that exposes a gap of access and opportunity.

We must dedicate ourselves to work for racial healing and transformation in Baton Rouge. While recognizing the universal respect we should have for those whose duty is to ensure our public safety, we must work together for law enforcement and criminal justice reform, economic development in all parts of the city, access to health care for all, quality education, and employment opportunities.

The flood of 2016 demonstrated the strengths of our beloved city in times of crisis. We saw a self-sacrificing and compassionate embrace of those in need, regardless of color or ethnicity. Now that strength needs to be put into action to heal the wounds in our city.

I call upon Catholics of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, members of all faith communities, and people of good will to seize this opportunity to bring about healing and change. This moment calls for conversion of mind, heart, and spirit that is both personal and systemic.

The Diocese of Baton Rouge has established a Racial Harmony Commission that is working on ways that we as a diocese can respond to this challenge and build bridges of dialogue, understanding, respect, and action.

May God bless our city at this critical time! May God move our hearts and our wills to work for the establishment of His Kingdom of peace and justice on earth.

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