The two white police officers from Baton Rouge who fatally shot Alton Sterling, a black man, won’t face charges.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday morning that after a “thorough and exhaustive review of the facts,” his office wouldn’t proceed with the prosecution of either officer who shot and killed Sterling, 37, at close range on July 5, 2016.
“Our investigation concluded that Officers Lake and Salamoni attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling with probable cause,” Landry said.
Sterling was shot multiple times outside a convenience store while being held down by the two officers, Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni. The exact sequence of events leading to his death are hazy. Sterling was armed at the time; one of the officers contended he used lethal force after Sterling reached for his gun. Bystanders, however, have disputed that account.
Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S convenience store where Sterling was selling CDs when police were called, filmed the fatal encounter. Muflahi said he never saw Sterling reach for his gun, but the video does show the officers removing an object from Sterling’s pocket after they killed him. Muflahi said it was a gun.
Officers said they were responding to reports of a black male in a red T-shirt threatening someone with a handgun. Sterling matched that description.
The Louisiana Department of Justice’s report on the investigation into Sterling’s death briefly describes him repeatedly resisting the officers’ efforts to restrain him. Salamoni told Lake that Sterling has a gun on him.
Sterlings’ position, however, “concealed lower half of his body, and more particularly, his right front pocket,” according to the report. Salamoni repeatedly yelled “he’s going for the gun,” as the officer drew his weapon and pointed it at Sterling. “Salamoni then fired three times at Sterling’s chest, and rolls off of him keeping his handgun pointed at Sterling,” according to the report. After Sterling sat up, Salamoni fired more shots at him, which eventually killed him.
After the fact, Lake removed a .38 caliber handgun from Sterling’s pocket and secured it, according to the report.
Sterling’s death was captured on cell-phone video and went viral. The following day, Philando Castile, another black man, was shot and killed by police in St. Paul, Minnesota, during a routine traffic stop. Castile had told the officer he was armed, but the officer fired multiple shots after Castile reached for his waistband.
Castile and Sterling’s deaths set off nationwide protests with renewed calls for racial justice and police reform.
Last May, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that federal prosecutors would not pursue civil rights charges against either officer.
Landry revealed the state’s decision privately to Sterling’s family before making his announcement. Veda Washington, Sterling’s aunt, spoke to reporters briefly outside Landry’s office after the meeting.
“I want people to know the truth about Alton,” Washington said. “He was murdered by two white, racist police officers. He was murdered like an animal. And they said they don’t see nothing wrong? They said they didn’t see anything wrong! You saw the videos. But they said they didn’t see anything wrong. I don’t understand it.”
Asked what Washington said in response to Landry’s decision, she replied ,“I told them to kiss my ass,” before walking towards her car.
Read the full report on Sterling's death from the Louisiana Department of Justice here:
Cover image: Kimberly Pierson, mother of Alton Sterling's son Na'Quincy Pierson, cries as she speaks to reporters following a meeting with the U.S. Justice Department at federal court in Baton Rouge, on Wednesday, May 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)