Attorneys of family of Alton Sterling react to BRPD decision to terminate officer who fired shots
BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The attorneys representing the five children of Alton Sterling held a press conference Friday to address the decision made by Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul. This comes after Paul announced his decision in the internal affairs investigation.
Chief Paul announced that Officer Blane Salamoni will be terminated, effective immediately and that Officer Howie Lake will be suspended for three days.
The lawyers for the family expressed disappointment in the whole situation, while also praising changes in policy put in place by the mayor and chief. They also said they are happy Salamoni was fired, but disappointed that Attorney General Jeff Landry did not allow the case to be presented before a grand jury.
They called for an independent, appointed body to make decisions in officer-involved shootings, saying it should not be left up to one individual.
"The investigation by the Attorney General was crap. A regurgitation of what the DOJ did. The DA didn't even get involved because he was friends with Salamoni's parents. We have to get some independent body that is elected nationally to look into officer-involved shootings where they can't be influenced by the local political people or this is going to keep happening," said attorney, Chris Stewart.
"It was clear that Blane Salamoni came out like a pit bull and immediately escalated the entire situation putting a gun to this man's head, using profane language, threatening his life, and he ended up taking his life. Everybody really needs to pay attention to the video surveillance from the food mart. You saw the body cam footage, but the real video is what hasn't aired yet from the surveillance video. Because what it shows is the personality of Alton Sterling. He never cursed. He never threatened them. He kept asking, 'What did I do man? What did I do? Why are you doing this? You're hurting me,'" Stewart added.
Michael Adams, another of the family's attorneys also spoke, saying he appreciates the courage shown by the new police chief and the mayor, and also that Sterling was not out of control when the officer arrived.
"The person who was out of control was Blane Salamoni. The person who stood by and let him be out of control was Howie Lake, and that's a tragedy," he said.
The lawyers expressed that they believe the police department was out of control and showed a lack of respect for a person who was dying on the night of July 5, 2016.
"You're not just a warrior, you're a guardian," Stewart said in speaking about how he believes police should be held to a higher standard.
The attorneys also said they believe both officers should have been fired, not just Salamoni, but added they respect that Lake received the maximum penalty for the violations he did commit.
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Salamoni encountered Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store in July of 2016 after responding to a report that a man there had just threatened someone with a gun. Salamoni was the second officer to arrive on the scene and found Sterling struggling with the first responding officer.
According to sources familiar with the case, Salamoni pointed his gun at Sterling's head and told him he would "blow his f**king head off" if he did not put his hands on a nearby car.
The other officer, Howie Lake II, did not fire any shots.
Both officers, who have been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, were cleared of any federal civil rights charges last year and then cleared of state criminal charges this week by the Louisiana Attorney General.
On Tuesday, March 27, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul announced he would wrap up the internal affairs investigation swiftly, likely by Friday. "Our examination will determine if any policies and procedures were violated by our officers during the incident," he said. "We will look at decisions that were made during the incident and we will apply that behavior to our policies and procedures."
After Salamoni pointed a gun at Sterling, the struggled continued. A taser was deployed on Sterling, but did not appear to have much effect on him. On a cell phone video showing part of the shooting, Salamoni can be heard yelling that Sterling had a gun.
Salamoni then fired six shots. After the shots are fired, Salamoni can be heard yelling "f**k!"
A loaded handgun was then pulled from Sterling's pocket, investigators say. An autopsy showed Sterling had multiple illegal drugs in his system, including cocaine.
THE APPEALS PROCESS
A Baton Rouge firefighter or police officer has the right to appeal a termination to the Fire and Police Civil Service Board. An appeal must be filed within 15 days and is generally heard within three months.
The appeals hearing is open to the public.
Either party can appeal the board's decision. If so, the case is decided by a 19th Judicial District Court judge. That judge's decision can then be appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, if desired.
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