BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - City leaders are barreling toward a court date for a judge to rule on a civil lawsuit filed by the family of Alton Sterling. The decision imminent now after EBR metro council members chose not to approve a proposed $5 million payout to settle the case.
The trial is set to begin in March 2021, nearly five years since Sterling was killed by police outside the Triple S Food Mart but council members remain split on whether settling is the right way to go.
“I think we should let the judicial branch do what the judicial branch does,” said councilman Matt Watson. “I think that’s going to allow the most amount of evidence to come out and have people who really understand the law and an actual jury or a judge to be able to make the determination on it to what they think is most just.”
“It’s time for us to move forward for reconciliation. To me this is restorative justice for the Sterling family but for the community as well,” councilwoman Chauna Banks added.
The item needed seven votes to pass but only six council members said yes. Five members voted no and the newest council member, Jennifer Racca, chose not to vote.
“It’s a band-aid and I believe that there’s some deeper issues,” Racca said. “There’s some departmental failures and if we settle this case, we’ll never be able to see those departmental failures.”
“We don’t need to get caught up. We just need to make a decision and that’s all I need to say,” councilwoman Erika Green added.
The Parish Attorney’s Office sent a memo to council members ahead of Wednesday’s vote saying the settlement amount was too high and recommended they offer a lower amount. Watson says they did not offer any specifics though and for that reason, he believes the council did not have enough information to make a decision Wednesday.
“They don’t feel comfortable with $5 million but they do want to settle,” he said. “What do they want to settle for? What is that dollar amount? I basically have the same information that you do and I’m the one who’s supposed to vote on something that means this much to this community.”
According to invoices requested by the 9News Investigators, the city-parish has already had to pay $179,102 in legal fees related to the case. Since 2018, the city-parish has hired a team of attorneys to handle the matter. One of them makes $225 an hour. So far, that legal team has racked up more than 687 hours of work related to the case. Those charges are for different things from meetings to court filings. All of the money paid ultimately comes out of the taxpayers' pocket.
WAFB’s Scottie Hunter asked two council members if they are concerned about the potential cost if the case continues to trial.
“There’s always a risk. I mean every attorney has an opinion but based on what we have all seen, blood is on our hands as a city regarding Alton Sterling and it is time for us to make a change and do the right thing and that is settle this case,” said Banks.
“I trust the judicial system to be able to handle this case,” said Watson. “I’m concerned that it’d cost more than $5 million. Certainly, if we’d have had the opportunity now to settle for something that’s much less than what it could end up in the long run, there’s going to be a lot of people upset saying that we didn’t manage taxpayer money a little bit more.”
The parish attorney estimated during Wednesday’s meeting the city-parish could spend about $500,000 on legal fees alone before the case is wrapped up and says it could cost more if there is any kind of appeal.
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