BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Trial hearings will begin March 1, 2021 for a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of Alton Sterling unless a settlement can be reached.
Sterling is the man whose 2016 shooting death at the hands of a Baton Rouge police officer sparked national outrage and demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Hearings on the lawsuit have been tied up since 2017 due to other court matters and disputes that directly impact the case.
Courts around Louisiana also suspended non-emergency hearings as the coronavirus pandemic hit the state just before the original trial date in April of 2020, causing further delays.
Attorneys representing the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council, the governing body of Baton Rouge that was sued because of the officers’ actions, met with lawyers representing Sterling’s family and a mediator on Oct. 3, 2019 to discuss a settlement amount.
The metro council could not agree whether to accept the amount, go back to the negotiation process, or continue on to a trial during a vote on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.
The case was automatically scheduled to go to trial as a result.
The shooting happened Tuesday, July 5, 2016 outside of the Triple S Food Mart on N Foster Drive in Baton Rouge.
Baton Rouge Police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, responded to anonymous calls about someone standing outside of the store threatening another man with a gun.
Salamoni and Lake confronted Sterling, who was standing at the front of the store, which led to a struggle. Lake used a stun gun on Sterling, while Salamoni tackled him.
Both officers eventually drew their weapons and pointed them at Sterling while trying to pin him to the ground. Salamoni then fatally shot Sterling during the struggle.
Videos of the shooting filmed and shared publicly by a documentary film crew that arrived at the scene and by the store’s owner polarized social media users.
The shooting happened at a time when similar shootings, where an African American was fatally shot by a member of law enforcement, happened across the nation.
Civil unrest ensued around the country.
Demonstrations happened almost daily in Baton Rouge, some ending in violent confrontations between demonstrators and law enforcement, as well as arrests.
In Dallas, five officers were later killed while 11 others were wounded, including two civilians, by an individual upset about the deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement, including Sterling’s.
A copycat shooter who was in Dallas at the time of that shooting traveled to Baton Rouge, where he killed two Baton Rouge police officers and an East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy.
Three other members of law enforcement were injured during that shooting, one of which still continues to struggle to recover.
Salamoni and Lake remained on suspension during the time. Ultimately, neither federal or state prosecutors would charge Salamoni or Lake for the shooting.
Lake briefly appealed to have the suspension removed from his record. He later dropped the appeal and went on to work with the police department.
Salamoni was fired in March of 2018 by Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. He appealed the firing.
The Baton Rouge Police Department later undid Salamoni’s firing and allowed him to resign instead as a settlement for that appeal.
Salamoni did not receive any back pay or financial compensation and dismissed all of his claims against the police department as a result.
Those matters are among the numerous disputes that had to be resolved before the Sterling family’s lawsuit could move forward.
The lawsuit claims Sterling’s shooting death at the hands of Salamoni was the product of poor training and inadequate police procedures.
“There is an environment that is prevalent in the Baton Rouge Police Department that has allowed officers to not deescalate,” said Attorney Mike Adams. “To use excessive force, to create and act upon racial bias. We want to be able to show that the city has a responsibility to fix this problem. We can’t do anything to bring Alton Sterling back.”
The group of attorneys representing Sterling’s family previously said they have evidence that shows there has been a long practice of abuse of rights, specifically against African Americans in the community.
One attorney, L. Chris Stewart, previously made clear the lawsuit is about creating institutional change in police procedures for the betterment of the community and Sterling’s family.
He’s said it’s not about litigating guilt against either officer.
“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,” Stewart said previously. “This isn’t about should the officers go to jail, this is about the children.”
Attorneys on both sides of the case will again have an opportunity to settle the case before trial at a status conference in July or a pre-trial hearing scheduled for Feb. 22, 2021.
- 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 N 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 Barack 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. District Attorney 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.
- 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.
- Thursday, 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.
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