The Investigators: Store owner sues Baton Rouge police, city for illegal seizure, detainment
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The owner of the store where Alton Sterling was shot and killed last week is suing police officers with the Baton Rouge Police Department and the city of Baton Rouge for illegal seizure and detainment following the incident, according to a lawsuit filed Monday with the 19th Judicial District Court.
The lawsuit, which was obtained by the 9News Investigators, lists Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S Mart on N. Foster Drive, as the plaintiff in the suit against the officers involved in the shooting, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake; BRPD Police Chief Carl Dabadie; the City of Baton Rouge as well as two other BRPD officers, Timothy Ballard and Robert Cook.
According to the lawsuit, Muflahi witnessed the shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling after seeing a BRPD police unit pull up into the parking lot on the store's security system. It states that Sterling had permission from Muflahi to sell CDs outside his store.
Muflahi witnessed the officers use a taser on Sterling before tackling him to the ground. At this time, the owner started recording the incident on his cell phone, capturing the shots by the police officers that killed Sterling.
According to the lawsuit, Muflahi was detained in the back of a BRPD unit for about four hours after Salamoni and Lake told other officers to hold him in custody despite Muflahi only being a witness to the incident. It claims that Muflahi never broke any laws.
Muflahi claims in the lawsuit that after Sterling died, his security system and surveillance was illegally seized without a warrant by Salamoni, Ballard and Cook. The lawsuit also states that Muflahi's cell phone was also confiscated illegally without permission or a warrant which prevented him from being able to call his family or attorney.
According to the lawsuit, Muflahi was detained for another two hours after being taken to the Louisiana State Police Headquarters, where he was questioned about the shooting.
"At all times defendants knew the plaintiff Muflahi was only a witness to the events at his store and that being a witness did not entitle police to hold Plaintiff in custody or seize or commandeer his store and equipment," the lawsuit states.
Records show that an affidavit for a search warrant for the video surveillance at the Triple S Food Mart was signed by Cook on the morning of Tuesday, July 5 and filed with East Baton Rouge Parish on Monday, July 11.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney 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 Triple S to get the recorder.
The search warrant gives the officers' perspective of the events that took place, stating that the two police officers told Sterling to place his hands on the hood of a vehicle.
According to the warrant, the officers attempted to restrain Sterling and used their tasers after Sterling failed to do what he was asked. The document states that during the struggle, officers saw the butt of a gun in Sterling's pocket and said that they fired their weapons when he tried to go for the gun.
The officers were responding to a call that a man was threatening someone with a gun outside of the store.
Officials said both officers had on body cameras but they fell off during the struggle and do not show the shooting. However, authorities were analyzing dash cam video and store surveillance video, which are believed to have captured the ordeal.
The investigation was handed over to the FBI on Wednesday, July 6, and Moore recused himself from the case on Monday, July 11. Moore also noted that he will ask the Louisiana Attorney General's office to take over the case or bring in another prosecutor. However, the case will not be moving forward until after the federal investigation is finished.
Both officers were placed on administrative leave after the shooting, which is standard procedure. The DA said both officers said that they felt their actions were justified just after the shooting.
The 9News Investigators learned from a source that Salamoni, a four-year veteran of the force, was the only officer to fire during the shooting, according to a preliminary investigation by Baton Rouge police. The 9News Investigators also found complaints of force filed against the two officers in their histories with BRPD's Internal Affairs.
The 9News Investigators reached out to Salamoni's lawyer, who had no comment. BRPD's policy for ongoing investigations is that they cannot comment.
A documentary crew arrived to the Triple S Food Mart just in time to record the shooting of Alton Sterling on a cell phone. The video, which surfaced on Tuesday evening, shows a portion of the struggle and the shooting.
The cell phone video shot by the store owner emerged Wednesday afternoon. The graphic video, which was shot from a much closer distance, shows the two Baton Rouge police officers struggling with Sterling.
An autopsy revealed that Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to his back and chest.
Sterling's family confirmed that he had a prior history with police including felony arrests.
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