Officers will not face state charges in Alton Sterling case

BATON ROUGE - The officers who shot and killed Alton Sterling two years ago outside a Baton Rouge gas station will not face charges in Sterling’s death.

Attorney General Jeff Landry announced the decision at a press conference this morning after laying out a detailed account of what happened the night Baton Rouge Police Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake attempted to arrest Sterling.

“The Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either Officer Lake or Officer Salamoni,” Landry said.

The two officers who responded to reports of a man brandishing a handgun outside the Triple S Food Mart the night of July 5, 2016.

Sterling repeatedly ignored verbal commands to comply with the officer’s demands, Landry said, resulting in an escalating situation that resulting in the officers shocking Sterling twice with a Taser.

Last May, the Department of Justice declined to press federal charges in the case.

“After an exhaustive, almost year-long investigation, all of the prosecutors and agents involved in this case have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to charge either officer with a federal crime in connection with this incident,” acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson said at the time.

Landry said his office received all of the evidence gathered in the DOJ’s investigation, which they received several weeks after the DOJ announced its decision

“This investigation included an examination and a reexamination of all evidence provided by the Federal Government,” Landry said.

Every witness was interviewed again, and every piece of evidence was reexamined.

“Our investigation has concluded that officers Lake and Salamoni attempted to make a lawful arrest of Mr. Sterling based on probable cause,” Landry said.

Lake and Salamoni used verbal commands, moved to more strict commands, and used non-lethal measures before finally using fatal force, Landry said.

They operated under the assumption that Sterling was armed, an assumption that was proven correct when a loaded .38 caliber pistol was found in the pocket of Sterling’s pants.

Landry said his office was not tasked with deciding if the police department’s procedures were followed or if the officers could have used different tactics, but if they approached the situation in a legal manner.

Ultimately, Landry said, they did, resulting in the decision not to press state charges in the fatal incident.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards released the following statement after Landry's announcement:

“The death of Alton Sterling was a tragedy that evoked deep grief and anger across Baton Rouge and Louisiana. Our communities continue to heal from the events of the summer of 2016," Edwards said. "While everyone may not agree with the decision by the Louisiana Department of Justice, the process outlined by law was followed. Now, we come to the next phase of the investigation. I support Mayor Sharon Weston Broome and Chief Murphy Paul’s decision to conduct an administrative review to determine if any disciplinary action should be taken within the Baton Rouge Police Department. We owe this final review to the Baton Rouge community and the Sterling family. As we move into this next phase of the investigation, I continue to ask the people of Louisiana to pray for Alton’s family, the community of North Baton Rouge where he lived, the law enforcement officials who protect us every day, and our great state."

In a statement reacting to Landry's decision, interim executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana Jane Johnson said:

“Alton Sterling was shot to death by two Baton Rouge police officers who were on top of him as he lay on the ground. He became the 122nd Black person to be killed by U.S. law enforcement in 2016. His death is yet another example of police brutality against people of color and our country’s systemic failure to hold law enforcement accountable for that brutality. Justice will not be served until we end this epidemic of police violence against people of color once and for all. Moving forward, we will continue to stand in solidarity with Mr. Sterling’s family and the communities most scarred by police violence. We join those urging Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul to fire the two officers involved, release all body camera and surveillance footage of the incident, and do everything in his power to end unjustified killings of civilians. Further, law enforcement agencies must respect the First Amendment rights of peaceful protesters and abide by the terms of the MOU they signed in 2016.”