No charges to be filed against BRPD officers involved in Alton Sterling shooting

Alton Sterling (Source: Facebook)
Alton Sterling (Source: Facebook)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - No criminal charges will be filed against the two Baton Rouge police officers involved in the Alton Sterling case, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday morning. One of the two officers fired shots during a struggle with Sterling in 2016 after yelling that Sterling had a gun.

Landry said their investigation determined that the officers tried to conduct a "lawful arrest" of Sterling. Landry said drugs were found in Sterling's system and that could have contributed to Sterling's "noncompliance" with commands from officers.

ADDITIONAL VIDEO:

The Baton Rouge Department has not yet announced the outcome of its internal affairs investigation which could include disciplinary action for the officers.

The shooting death of Alton Sterling added Baton Rouge to the list of wounded communities in the aftermath of officer-involved shootings, with many split along racial lines. Alton Sterling, a black man, was shot in the chest and back during a struggle with two white police officers. Just before the shooting, one of those officers yelled that Sterling had a gun. A gun was later recovered from Sterling's pocket.

RELATED: Family of Alton Sterling, some lawmakers express disappointment in AG's decision to not file charges

State investigators received the case in May of 2017 after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not be pursuing civil rights charges against the officers. The office of Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry was deciding whether or not the officers should face any state criminal charges, such as manslaughter.

The shooting caused a fracture in the community and sparked protests. The latest decision ultimately leads us to an unsettled discussion about use of fatal force. That discussion is far from over.

THE SHOOTING 

  • Tuesday, July 5, 2016
  • 12:30 a.m.
  • Triple S Food Mart
  • N Foster Drive

Two Baton Rouge Police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, responded to reports of a suspicious person outside a Baton Rouge convenience store on N Foster Drive. According to police dispatch obtained by 9News, officers were told a man outside the store was threatening another man with a gun.

The officers arrived to find their suspect, Alton Sterling, 37, standing in front of the store. The officers confronted Sterling, which led to a struggle.

One officer used a stun gun on Sterling, while a second officer tackled him. Both officers eventually drew their weapons and pointed them at Sterling while trying to pin him to the ground. The officer who initiated the tackle, Blane Salamoni, would end up firing his weapon several times, killing Sterling during the struggle. The other officer on scene never fired his weapon.

RELATED: Alton Sterling shooting archives

ALTON STERLING

  • 37-years-old, father of five
  • 5' 11" tall
  • Also known as “CD Man”
  • Gun found in pocket on scene

According to the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office, Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.

RELATED:  Coroner: man shot by BRPD multiple times to chest and back; 2 officers placed on leave

Family members say Sterling was known for selling CDs and movies outside the convenience store where he died. He had been doing it for years, earning the nickname "CD Man." The store owner had given him permission to sell CDs outside of his store after Sterling told him he couldn't find a job.

Sterling had a long history with police, including several battery, drug, and burglary charges, as well as an arrest for resisting an officer. In the weeks before the shooting, he was accused of failing to register as a sex offender and possession of ecstasy and marijuana.

A police report indicates Sterling was in a similar confrontation with a Baton Rouge police officer in 2009. In that case, an officer who was questioning Sterling claimed Sterling began fighting with him. The report states, "While wrestling with this subject [Sterling] on the ground, a black semi-automatic gun fell from the subject's waistband."

THE OFFICERS

  • BLANE SALAMONI, 4-year veteran, uniform patrol
    Opened fire on Sterling after yelling that Sterling had a gun
  • HOWIE LAKE II, 3-year veteran, uniform patrol
    Used a Taser on Sterling

The officers involved in the Sterling shooting have been on paid administrative leave since day one.

Both men gave initial statements in the hours following the shooting. 19th Judicial District Attorney Hillar Moore, who would later recuse himself from the case, confirmed both officers said they felt their actions were justified. Sources say the officers declined requests to speak to both federal and state investigators.

The Baton Rouge Police Department is conducting its own internal review of the shooting. A decision has still not been made about whether they will face any disciplinary measures by BRPD or be cleared of wrongdoing.

The 9News Investigators found complaints of excessive force filed against the two officers while reviewing BRPD Internal Affairs reports. However, they were cleared in each case.

BRPD INTERNAL AFFAIRS REPORTS

  • APRIL 2014
    Officer Lake faced an accusation for excessive use of force while trying to make an arrest. Documents state there was a struggle between Lake and the suspect with the suspect falling to the ground. It goes on to say the "arrestee struck his chin on the pavement causing a cut to his chin." He was exonerated of the allegations.
  • DECEMBER 2014
    Officer Lake faced another excessive force claim involving several officers shooting at an armed suspect who was injured and survived. All officers were cleared in that case.
  • JUNE 2015
    Officer Salamoni was investigated for complaints of improperly carrying out orders and questioned about his use of excessive force after a high-speed chase that ended with Officer Salamoni setting up street spikes and the suspect crashing his car. The chief determined the complaint was “not sustained.”
  • AUG 2015
    Another use of excessive force complaint was filed against Salamoni. According to documents obtained by The Investigators, Salamoni stated that while struggling with the suspect, he “delivered several closed-hand strikes to make the suspect release his duty belt and Taser.” Officials cleared the policeman saying “Officer Salamoni (and another officer) acted in the scope of their duties when using force to prevent an aggressor from causing injury or possibly disarming an officer.”

RELATED: The Investigators: Both involved officers have had previous use of force incidents

VIDEO & AUDIO RECORDINGS

A documentary crew that regularly listens to police scanners and shows up at crime scenes to shoot footage, recorded and then posted online the first cell phone video showing the altercation.

The cell phone video shows the tackle and gunshots can be heard, but cannot be seen. That video surfaced and circulated around various social media sites less than 24 hours after the deadly shooting.

RELATED: Documentary crew captures video of officer-involved shooting on cell phone

The day after the shooting, the store owner himself shared his cell phone video, shot from a different and closer point of view. In the video, Sterling is seen on the ground with the two officers on top of him. At that point, one officer says, "He's got a gun," and warns Sterling not to move. That is followed by a series of gunshots. The disturbing and graphic video shows Sterling getting shot. After the gunfire stops, one of the officers reaches into Sterling's pocket and retrieves a gun.

Multiple cameras, aside from phone footage, captured some of the events prior to the shooting and the shooting itself.

Additional video was recorded on a dashboard camera from one of the patrol cars, as well as at least one store surveillance camera. However, those videos have not yet been made public as they were a major part of the evidence used in the federal and state probes.

Former Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie confirmed the officers were wearing body cameras, but said they fell off during the struggle and do not show the shooting. In one piece of cell phone video, one officer's body cam is seen falling off of him during the struggle. Investigators did use the audio captured by the cameras.

RELATED: The Investigators: Company responds to questions about body cams falling off officers

The 9News Investigators obtained the police dispatch records from just before and just after the officer-involved shooting.

The dispatcher tells officers they received a call of a suspicious person at 2100 North Foster. She tells officers the suspect is "on the corner" and that the person has a "gun in his pocket."

Shortly after officers arrived on the scene, one of them is heard telling dispatch that shots had been fired at that location.

"Shots fired, shots fired," the officer loudly announced over his police radio. He then added, "both officers OK, suspect down. I need EMS code 3."

Code 3 is the most urgent of Baton Rouge police codes and means that a very quick response, with lights and sirens, is being requested.

RELATED:  The Investigators: police dispatch tapes obtained in Alton Sterling shooting

DEMONSTRATIONS

The Sterling shooting sparked days of large-scale protests. The shooting happened in the peak of the Black Lives Matter movement, during an atmosphere of unrest nationwide and a growing distrust of those sworn to protect and serve.

Protesters first started gathering Tuesday, the day of the shooting, outside of the store where Sterling was killed. By Friday afternoon, organizers moved the protests to BRPD headquarters, saying they wanted to get the police's attention.

Law enforcement from several agencies were out in riot gear at protests on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Police say protesters attempted to block Government Street and the nearby interstate on Sunday evening. Police and deputies say they managed to stop protesters before they were able to get onto the interstate.

Almost 150 people were arrested that weekend, including a WAFB employee who was there to cover the protest and stepped into the street, and thus was arrested. Two police officers were hurt, including one officer who had several teeth knocked out.

Another group, including some elected officials from the state and local level, marched peacefully on Saturday from Baton Rouge City Hall to the State Capitol without incident. On Sunday, demonstrators marched around the Louisiana State Capitol. Lawmakers and community members were in attendance.

RELATED: Crowd marches to La. State Capitol in Baton Rouge

TIMELINE

  • Tuesday, July 5
    -Two police officers respond to a call outside the Triple S convenience store at 12:30 a.m. Alton Sterling is fatally shot during a struggle with the officers.
    -People gather to remember Alton Sterling outside the convenience store. A vigil turns into an overnight rally with chants of “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace” echoing outside the store where Sterling was killed. The crowd multiplies by the minute, spills into the street, and at times, blocks intersections along North Foster Drive.
  • Wednesday, July 6
    -Governor John Bel Edwards calls the shooting “disturbing” and announces the Department of Justice (DOJ) would be taking over the investigation, with assistance from the FBI and Louisiana State Police.
    -BRPD identifies the officers, resulting in protests calling for their firing as well as the chief of police’s resignation.
    -Family members hold an emotional news conference alongside the local chapter of the NAACP. Members of the Black Lives Matter movement organize a vigil emphasizing calls for justice.
  • Thursday, July 7
    -A prayer rally is held at Town Square. For the third night in a row, a crowd gathers outside the convenience store where the shooting took place.
  • Friday, July 8
    -NAACP joins a rally outside City Hall.
    -Law enforcement responds to protests with more of a military appearance, clad in riot gear, ready to respond on the ground and from the air. 
    -Police break up a large crowd of protesters on the streets in front of BRPD headquarters. As many as 30 people are arrested. 
  • Saturday, July 9
    -Demonstrators participate in the first of two marches to the Louisiana State Capitol. At a rally following the march, speakers emphasize peace, unity, and reforms to the justice system. 
    -Before sundown, protests start with a march from Cortana Mall to BRPD headquarters on Airline Highway, a location that would become ground zero for very intense protests.
    -Members of the New Black Panther Party, many from out of town, join the protests.
    -LSP and local law enforcement agencies join BRPD attempting to corral the crowds.
    -BRPD officers once again suit up in riot gear, forming a seemingly militarized line.
    -More than 100 people are arrested during heated protests at BRPD headquarters. 
    -Protests turn violent with an officer being hurt by something thrown by someone in the crowd.
    -Officers confiscate as many as eight guns from protesters.
  • Sunday, July 10
    -A peace march to the Louisiana State Capitol marks the sixth day of protests.
    -The protests, now branded with a hashtag, #JusticeforAltonSterling, continue once again outside BRPD.
    -Officers respond wearing riot gear for the third day in a row.
    -Police say a group of protesters attempt to block Government Street and the nearby interstate.
  • Monday, July 11
    -President Obama places a telephone call to the Sterling family to offer his and the First Lady’s condolences on behalf of the American people for the death of their loved one.
    -A memorial for Sterling continues to grow outside the convenience store and now includes a mural painted on the side of the building.
    -DA Hillar Moore announces he would be stepping away from any possible case against the officers, saying he is too close with the parents of one of the accused officers.
    -Police raid a home in Baton Rouge. The raid is in connection to a burglary at a pawn shop where several guns were stolen. Of the three people arrested during the raid, one admits the group was planning on using the stolen firearms to shoot police officers at protests. A juvenile is later arrested in connection to the alleged police ambush plot.

RELATED: 12-year-old becomes fourth person arrested in pawn shop burglary, alleged plot to kill police

  • Tuesday, July 12
    -One week since the deadly shooting, hundreds of faith and community leaders gather to discuss ways of moving forward.
  • Wednesday, July 13
    -Sterling’s oldest son, a 15-year-old, speaks during a news conference at the store where it all began. He gives an emotional plea for protesters to remain peaceful.
  • Thursdsay, July 14
    -LSU holds a community meeting. A large crowd gathers at LSU’s African American Cultural Center to have open discussions about the protests and Sterling's death.
  • Friday, July 15
    -The Sterling family calls for an end to all protests as they prepare for Sterling’s funeral service at Southern University. Reverend Al Sharpton and Congressman Cedric Richmond are among the many who speak at the service.

OFFICER SHOOTINGS
A seemingly peaceful protest was held in downtown Dallas, Texas on Thursday, July 7, two nights after the Sterling shooting. Marchers were calling for justice for the recent officer-involved shootings of black men making headlines in 2016. The most recent shootings Dallas demonstrators cited were the Alton Sterling shooting on Tuesday of that week and Philando Castile, who was shot on Wednesday in a St. Paul, Minnesota suburb.

Things took a violent turn when a suspect, who later told a hostage negotiator he was upset about the shootings, opened fire in an ambush on police officers.

Five officers were killed while 11 others were wounded, including two civilians. The standoff and negotiations with the suspect lasted into Friday morning. The suspect was killed when officers detonated a bomb that was on a robot they sent inside the garage where he was hiding.

A man who had been in Dallas at the time of that ambush traveled to Baton Rouge to hunt law enforcement agents. He fired the first shots in his revenge attack at 8:40 a.m. on Sunday, July 17.

The shootout lasted 13 minutes and 55 seconds. It happened less than a mile from the Baton Rouge Police headquarters.

Two Baton Rouge Police officers and an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office deputy were killed in the ambush shooting. Three additional law enforcement officers were wounded, one of which has struggled to recover.

RELATED: Remembering the fallen: 1 year anniversary of Baton Rouge ambush shooting

FEDERAL DECISION

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) was tasked with deciding whether or not the officers involved in Alton Sterling death violated his civil rights. The DOJ had the case for ten months before announcing their decision in May of 2017. The officers would not face any federal charges. They announced what is called a "declination of charges," meaning they are declining to pursue charges.

The DOJ report reveals what led up to the shooting. The report says the officers approached Sterling after being told he was armed and Sterling did not initially follow instructions to put his hands on the hood of a car.

"Officer Salamoni then pulled out his gun and pointed it at Sterling's head, at which point Sterling placed his hands on the hood. After Sterling briefly attempted to move his hands from the hood, Officer Lake then used a Taser on Sterling, who fell to his knees, but then began to get back up. The officers ordered him to get down, and Officer Lake attempted unsuccessfully to use his Taser on Sterling again. Officer Salamoni Holstered his weapon, and then tackled Sterling; both went to the ground, with Officer Salamoni on top of Sterling, who was on this back with his right hand and shoulder partially under the hood of a car."

U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, Corey Amundson, said during a news conference announcing the DOJ's decision, "Both experts criticized aspects of the officer's technique and approach in this case. Having said that, the experts also concluded unanimously that the officer's actions were not unreasonable."

Prosecutors also noted they could not prove Sterling was not reaching for the gun which was found in his pocket immediately after the shooting. The whole encounter took around 90 seconds.

RELATED: Federal investigators decline charges against officers in Sterling case

LITIGATION

Lawyers representing Alton Sterling's five children filed a lawsuit in June of 2017 against several parties in connection with Sterling's death.

"We want to be very clear that this is a civil suit, this has nothing to do with the criminal investigation. The civil suit is for the children and for the community," said attorney L. Chris Stewart. "This isn't about should the officers go to jail – this is about the children."

The attorneys have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge Parish, the Baton Rouge Police Department, Officer Blane Salamoni, Officer Howie Lake, former Chief Carl Dabadie, and an unnamed insurance company.

The lawsuit claims Officer Blane Salamoni's shooting of Sterling was the product of poor training and inadequate police procedures. They also say they have the evidence that shows there has been a long practice of abuse of rights, specifically against African Americans.

The owner of the store where Sterling died is suing BRPD officers and the city for illegal seizure and detainment following the incident, according to a lawsuit filed with the 19th Judicial District Court.

Records show an affidavit for a search warrant for the store's video surveillance was signed on the morning of Tuesday, July 5 and was filed with East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday, July 11.

DA Hillar Moore said there is no law that search warrants have to be filed within a certain time frame and that even though the warrant was filed into record Monday, officers did have the search warrant in hand before going into the store to get the surveillance video.

American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana filed a lawsuit against BRPD for violating the First Amendment rights of demonstrators, whom they say were protesting peacefully against Sterling's death.

The lawsuit alleges the police used excessive force, physical and verbal abuse, and wrongful arrests to disperse protesters who were gathered peacefully to speak out against the fatal shooting.

In October of 2017, U.S. District Judge John de Gravelles approved cash payments for 69 protesters arrested for obstructing a highway in the summer of 2016. The lawsuit alleges law enforcement officials violated the constitutional rights of protesters.

An unnamed Baton Rouge police officer sued Black Lives Matter and movement leader, DeRay Mckesson, over injuries he claimed he received during the protest. A federal judge tossed that lawsuit out, saying a movement can't be sued.

LEGACY

Elected leaders called for constructive conversations, while others demanded action in the form of changes to police policy.

The East Baton Rouge Metro Council established a special task force known as the Community Police Policy Review. They also established the Community Policing Ambassador program to present policy changes that includes everything from eliminating potential bias to the need for more transparency.

RELATED: Sterling family responds to DOJ decision to not charge officers

Their hope is to improve BRPD and its relationship with the public. There is also a plan to establish incentives to recruit and retain quality officers.

Baton Rouge's new Police Chief, Murphy Paul, promised to make an effort to improve trust. Chief Paul says he will review the department's use of force policies to make sure they are up to date with national standards.

In an emotional statement, the last time Sterling's oldest son, Cameron, addressed the public. The teenager called himself the next legacy.

"I have my brothers and sisters to look after. I have to look after every last one of them because guess what? I'm that next legacy. I'm here after my dad. My dad is now long gone, so now I'm here, so I'm that legacy and I have to look after those kids."

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