One Baton Rouge officer fired, the other suspended in Alton Sterling shooting

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BATON ROUGE — Baton Rouge Police officer Blane Salamoni has been fired and Howie Lake II has been suspended for three days for shooting and killing Alton Sterling almost two years ago.

Alton Sterling, 37, was killed by police outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (Facebook via CNN)

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul announced the decision at a 5 p.m. news conference Friday afternoon. Watch the video at the bottom of the page to see the press conference in full.

He also released new body cam video from the scene. You can watch that video above.

Paul said he hopes his decision “brings closure to a cloud that has been over our community for way too long.”

“These actions were not minor deviations from policy … they contributed to the death of another human being,” Murphy said. “This is over. This is the last investigation. We’re going to allow the community to heal, and our police officers to heal.”

State authorities announced this week that Salamoni was justified in shooting Sterling outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, and that no charges would be brought against him or Lake.

Blane Salamoni

The fatal encounter between the two white police officers and Sterling, a black man, helped spur renewed Black Lives Matter protests across the nation.

Previously released cell phone video showed Sterling, 37, pinned to the ground by the officers before he was shot on July 5, 2016.

Police said they believed Sterling was reaching for a gun. The Justice Department said in May that evidence couldn’t prove or disprove that Sterling was reaching for a weapon, and that Sterling had a loaded .38-caliber handgun in his pocket.

The hearings

Paul said the hearing happened Thursday night. Each officer had their own hearing, and each had an attorney representing him. 

Lake answered all questions asked of him, while Salamoni declined to answer any questions on the advice of his lawyer.

“We take great consideration of the demands we place on our officers,” Paul said. “Every officer knows in their heart that they may be called to a higher duty.”

‘You’ll cry’ after seeing the other videos, relative says

Howie Lake II

The killing gripped the nation in part because two videos taken by bystanders, each less than a minute long, were released publicly shortly after the shooting and captured the final part of Sterling’s struggle with the two white officers.

The woman who raised Sterling, Sandra Sterling, told reporters she’s seen the unreleased videos — and that they will spark more public outrage.

“When you see those other … videos of Blane Salamoni killing Alton Sterling, you’ll cry again,” Sandra Sterling said. “And when you cry again, you’ll be telling the Sterling family, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

In a roughly 30-minute surveillance video from the Triple S Convenience store, Sterling is seen at the front of the store before the shooting, sitting at a table selling CDs, smoking cigarettes and listening to rap music, the sources say of the footage.

Authorities have said Salamoni and Lake went there after police received a 911 call from a man who said someone had pulled a gun on him.

According to the state report released this week, Sterling refused to heed the officers’ commands to put his hands on the hood of a car, and each officer reached for and tried to control Sterling’s arms.

Officer threatened early to shoot Sterling in head, authorities say

When Sterling spun around and pulled his right arm away from Salamoni, Salamoni drew his gun, the state report says. The footage from Salamoni’s body camera, sources with direct knowledge of the investigation said, show Salamoni at this point training his gun at Sterling’s head.

Salamoni yells and threatens to shoot — though the state report and CNN’s sources offer different accounts on exactly what was said.

“Put your hands on the f***ing car or I will blow your f***ing head off! Put your hands on the car or I will blow your f***ing head off!” Salamoni says, according to the sources describing the video.

The state report quotes Salamoni this way: “Don’t f****** move, or I’ll shoot you in your f****** head.”

A struggle, followed by the shooting

Sterling then complied but eventually resisted Lake’s attempts to gain control of his hands, the state report says.

Lake twice used a Taser on Sterling, with little to no effect. Salamoni eventually holstered his gun, tackled Sterling to the ground and tried to control Sterling’s right arm, and Lake knelt and tried to control Sterling’s left arm, the state report says.

At one point, the already-released cell phone videos show, someone — Salamoni, according to the state report — shouting, “He’s got a gun!” In one video, an officer draws something from his waistband and points it at Sterling.

“If you move, I swear to God,” Salamoni tells Sterling, according to the report.

At this moment, the state report says, Sterling was positioned in a way that concealed his right front pocket. The officers continue to try to control his hands.

“He’s going for the gun,” Salamoni yells, according to the state report.

The report says Salamoni first shot Sterling three times in the chest and then rolled off him.

Sterling sits up. As Lake yelled at Sterling to get on the ground, Sterling rolled away from Salamoni, who fired three more shots, this time into Sterling’s back. Sterling’s hands and right side are concealed from Salamoni’s view, the Louisiana attorney general said.

Lake removed a loaded .38-caliber handgun from Sterling’s right front pocket, the report says.

Attorney general: Drugs may have been a factor

In May, federal prosecutors found there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant civil rights charges against Salamoni and Lake.

The feds cited use-of-force experts who determined the officers’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances — including that the two employed several less-than-lethal techniques before using force, and that Sterling struggled with the officers and failed to follow orders.

The Justice Department also said that evidence couldn’t prove or disprove Salamoni’s assertion that Sterling was reaching for a gun.

Landry, the state attorney general, said Tuesday that Sterling had illicit drugs in his system.

“Considering this, it is reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence, and that contributed to his noncompliance,” Landry said.

An autopsy indicated Sterling had cocaine, methamphetamine, hydrocodone, a marijuana ingredient, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in his blood.

Sterling family attorney Chris Stewart said this week that every action was “initiated by the officers.”

He also said Salamoni’s threat to shoot Sterling in the head was illegal.

“That is not the behavior that any officer should have,” Stewart said. “In our opinion, that is criminal.”

Sterling’s five children filed a wrongful death lawsuit in June against the city of Baton Rouge, police department and others.

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