Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Police duo won't be charged over shooting that sparked wave of US protests

Two white police officers will not be charged over the death of a black man whose shooting which was captured on mobile phone video fuelled protests in Louisiana's capital and throughout the US.

Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation immediately after the July 5 2016 police shooting in Baton Rouge that killed Alton Sterling, 37, outside a convenience store where he was selling home-made CDs.

The US Justice Department's decision was disclosed by a person familiar with the matter.

State authorities can, however, conduct their own investigation and pursue criminal charges.

Mr Sterling's death sparked widespread protests last summer during which police arrested nearly 200 people, leading to lawsuits accusing police of using excessive force and violating civil rights.

Two phone videos of Mr Sterling's deadly struggle with the two officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, quickly spread on social media after the shooting.

A police report said Mr Sterling was initially jolted with a stun gun after he did not obey the officers' commands to put his hands on the bonnet of a car.

The report also said the officers saw the butt of a gun in one of Mr Sterling's trouser pockets and saw him try to reach for it before he was shot.

Dozens of people gathered o utside the convenience store on Tuesday after hearing the news and held a vigil.

One of Mr Sterling's aunts led the crowd in chants of "No justice, no peace!"

"It's been almost a year and we're still suffering like it happened yesterday," said Veda Sterling.

"We need closure. We need a conviction. We need justice."

Local activist Arthur Reed said he broke the news to another of Mr Sterling's aunts, Sandra, in a phone call.

He said she broke down and was "heartbroken", not only because of the decision but because the Justice Department did not notify the family first.

"We just think it wasn't done properly," he said.

No public announcement has been made by the department and many officials in Baton Rouge said they had not been notified.

"The Governor's Office has not been notified of a timeline or decision regarding the Alton Sterling investigation," said Richard Carbo, a spokesman for governor John Bel Edwards .

"We have been in constant contact with the US Attorney's Office and were assured that both our office and the Sterling family would be given advance notice."

Mr Salamoni's lawyer, John McLindon, said he could not comment until he read an official report from the Justice Department.

Justin Bamberg, a lawyer for some of Mr Sterling's relatives, has said the family wanted an indictment.

Mr Bamberg also represents relatives of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running from a traffic stop in Charleston, South Carolina, when a white police officer shot him dead in 2015.

The former officer, Michael Slager, 35, pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges on Tuesday, five months after a jury emerged deadlocked on state murder charges against him.

Tuesday's move in the Sterling case was the highest-profile decision not to bring charges against police officers in a deadly shooting since Jeff Sessions became US attorney general.

But the federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the officers was seen as problematic.

Authorities in such cases must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated prosecutions in past police shootings.

Mr Sessions has said the Justice Department is committed to holding individual officers accountable when they break the law, but also believes too much federal scrutiny of police forces can diminish officers' effectiveness and hurt morale.

The videos show Mr Sterling scuffling with the officers after they responded to a complaint that Mr Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun outside the convenience store.

The two officers had Mr Sterling pinned on his back when gunfire erupted, moments after someone yelled: "He's got a gun!"

Baton Rouge's police chief has said Mr Sterling was armed and the store's owner has said he was not holding a gun during the shooting, but he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterwards.

As a convicted offender, Sterling could not legally carry a gun.

Court records show he pleaded guilty in 2011 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and illegally carrying a weapon and was arrested in May 2009 after an officer confronted him outside another store where he was selling CDs.

Police said they had dashcam and bodycam video and store surveillance footage of the shooting but none has been released and a coroner's report on Mr Sterling's post-mortem examination has been sealed.

Both officers were placed on administrative leave, a standard procedure. Each had two previous "use of force" complaints against them and records indicate they were cleared in all cases.

AP

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph