JUSTIFIED: State Rules Alton Sterling Shooting 'Well-Founded'
Baton Rouge, LA – Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday morning that the state’s investigation into the shooting of Alton Sterling had determined the police officers’ use of force had been “well founded and reasonable under the circumstances and under Louisiana law.”
The state concluded that officers had attempted to make a lawful arrest of Sterling based upon probable cause, and said that the results of Sterling’s toxicology reports indicated that drugs were likely a contributing factor to Sterling resisting arrest.
Therefore, the attorney general announced that the Baton Rouge police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Sterling on July 5, 2016 would not be charged with any crime.
Landry extended his condolences to Sterling’s family “regardless of the circumstances” at a press conference to release the results of the state’s investigation on March 27.
Then the attorney general explained the process the Louisiana Department of Justice had followed to come to their conclusion in great detail. He said his office had reached out to federal investigators immediately after the shooting to find out where they fit in to the investigative process, and were told they had no role in it.
“This effectively sidelined our office,” he said.
But then on May 3, 2017, the acting U.S. Attorney for Louisiana delivered his decision not to prosecute anyone for Sterling’s death, and the conclusion of the federal investigation effectively cleared the path for the state’s own investigation, Landry said.
The attorney general’s office sent investigators to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) office to get the evidence, and Louisiana began their own investigation.
Landry said state investigators had inventoried, sorted and reviewed the materials received, and then done further investigation on its own.
The state’s findings revealed that Sterling “clearly matched the description given by the 911 caller,” Landry said.
The caller had also told the dispatcher that Sterling had a firearm concealed in his right front pocket, the attorney general said.
Sterling was engaged in a transaction with two women when police approached him in front of the convenience store.
Baton Rouge Police Officer Howie Lake interrupted and told Sterling to put his hands on a vehicle, but Sterling did not comply.
Officer Lake then tried to physically control Sterling’s hands in an effort to put them on the vehicle, Landry said.
Sterling was still resisting arrest when Baton Rouge Officer Blane Salamoni arrived to back up Officer Lake.
Landry said Sterling spun around and pulled his right hand away from Officer Salamoni, so the officer pulled his weapon and threatened to shoot Sterling if he did not comply.
The threat was “momentarily effective,” and officers attempted to place Sterling in custody, but then he started resisting again.
Officer Salamoni stepped back and took up a defensive position with his gun trained on Sterling, Landry said.
Officer Lake deployed his Taser, but it had little effect. Sterling momentarily fell to his knees but remained noncompliant, and tried to get back up again a moment later.
Officer Salamoni told Officer Lake to tase Sterling again, and he did – but the second deployment of the Taser had no effect on Sterling, Landry said.
At that point, Officer Salamoni holstered his weapon and tackled Sterling. They struggled on the ground with each officer trying to control one of Sterling’s arms.
“In discussing these events, we must be mindful of what I’m describing took place very quickly,” the attorney general reminded reporters, and said Sterling was “armed with a firearm and continuously resisting.”
In the videos reviewed by investigators, Officer Salamoni can be heard saying “he’s got a gun” and then “he’s going for the gun.”
Officer Salamoni fired three shots into Sterling’s chest and then rolled slightly away from him, “keeping his handgun trained on Mr. Sterling,” Landry said.
Sterling sat up and rolled to his left, away from Officer Salamoni.
“His hands and his right side appeared to be concealed from the view of both officers,” Landry explained.
Sterling tried to get up again and Officer Salamoni fired three additional shots into Sterling’s back.
Landry said that after the altercation, Officer Lake found a 38-caliber handgun in Sterling’s right front pocket.
The attorney general said that the state conducted “an examination and a re-examination” of a “voluminous” amount of investigative materials, and launched its own investigation – which included re-interviewing eyewitnesses.
“Let me be very clear, our objective was to conduct a full and through examination” before any conclusions were drawn,” the attorney general said, stressing that the state’s investigators had not rushed anything.
The state’s investigation concluded that the arrest had been lawful and the use of force had been justified, according to both state and federal use of force experts. However, Landry made it clear that their findings had nothing to do with the Baton Rouge police’s policies and procedures.
Officers used several non-lethal techniques to gain compliance of Mr. Sterling’s hands, but were unable to subdue him. The state investigation said “toxicology reports showed the presence of several controlled and illegal drugs in Sterling … that contributed to his non-compliance.”
Police were bracing for upheaval in the wake of the Louisiana attorney general’s announcement on Tuesday.