FBI, DOJ open investigation into Alton Sterling shooting
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice will lead the investigation into the shooting involving Baton Rouge police officers that resulted in the death of Alton Sterling, the Louisiana governor announced Wednesday.
"I have full confidence this matter will be investigated thoroughly, impartially, and professionally," Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a morning press conference. He was surrounded by state lawmakers from the Baton Rouge area.
The Louisiana State Police, meanwhile, will provide assistance in the investigation.
"There's no time limit on this. There's no time frame other than to get it right and make sure the public knows what is going on," said Col. Mike Edmonson, the head of the State Police.
Police said they received a call from an individual who claimed Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun while Sterling was selling CDs in the parking lot of the Triple S convenient store on N. Foster Dr. Two officers arrived and confronted him.
The store owner, who witnessed the shooting, said things quickly got out of control. One officer used a stun gun on Sterling, then the other officer tackled Sterling to the ground. According to the store owner, the officers shot Sterling four to six times shortly after he was tackled. Cell phone footage captured part of the gunfire.
An autopsy showed Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to his back and chest. Officials said both officers had on body cameras, but they fell off during the struggle and do not show the shooting. However, police are analyzing dash cam video and store surveillance video, which are believed to have captured the ordeal.
Edmonson said he was contacted by Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Wednesday morning about getting outside agencies involved. Edwards indicated that he had already spoken with the FBI and the White House.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore had also been in discussion with federal authorities.
"This is a very important decision taken to ensure that our community can have confidence that local law enforcement is committed to ensuring transparency in all officer involved deaths," Moore said in a statement Wednesday. He expressed repeated support for the move to bring in federal authorities.
The FBI released the following statement:
The FBI's New Orleans Division, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Alton Sterling. The Justice Department will collect all available facts and evidence and conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time.
The decision to bring in federal investigators was a relief for several lawmakers who expressed concern about the prospect of BRPD launching an internal investigation.
"No one can investigate themselves. I think that's a logical statement to make. You really need an independent eye, an independent group of individuals to look at this," said Rep. Pat Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
"We're frustrated, but the frustration has already turned into action," said Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge.
On Tuesday night, a video began circulating on the internet of the early morning shooting. The governor said he had seen that video.
"I have very serious concerns. The video is disturbing to say the least," Edwards said.
With large groups of protestors continuing to gather at the site of the shooting, the Governor and other state leaders called for community members to unite in peace.
"Violence and destruction of property is not an answer to anything we're facing today," Edwards said.
"We're not Ferguson, we're not Baltimore, so we can peacefully assemble, we can get our points across," James said.
Still, the frustration was apparent on the faces of several leaders.
"I tell my young men all the time, if you encounter a police officer, be respectful, yes sir, no sir, don't reach for anything, don't get erratic. I don't have anything to explain to these young people this morning - I have not words for them, other than to say to pray and be peaceful. That's the only thing I can muster today," James said.
How long the federal investigation will take or what role the State Police will play is so far unclear, according to Edmonson.
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