DOJ declines to press federal charges in Alton Sterling case

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

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BATON ROUGE – The Department of Justice has decided not to pursue charges against the two police officers involved in the shooting of Alton Sterling.

“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 a press conference announcing the decision this afternoon.

Sterling was shot and killed outside a Baton Rouge convenience store just after midnight July 5.

The DOJ investigation could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baton Rouge Police Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, who responded to a call in response to a man threatening someone with a gun, willfully violated Sterling’s civil rights.

Sterling’s final moments passed in rapid-fire succession, according to the DOJ report.

“From the moment when Officer Lake gave his first order to Sterling, through the firing of the final shot, the entire encounter lasted less than 90 seconds,” according to a DOJ press release. “More specifically, from the start of the officers’ physical struggle with Sterling on the ground, through the firing of the final shot, the encounter lasted less than 30 seconds.”

Two cell phone videos captured the entire quick encounter for posterity.

“The videos show the officers as they arrived on scene and engaged with Sterling,” according to the DOJ press release. “The videos show that the officers directed Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car. When Sterling did not comply, the officers placed their hands on Sterling, and he struggled with the officers. Officer Salamoni then pulled out his gun and pointed it at Sterling’s head, at which point Sterling placed his hands on the hood. After Sterling briefly attempted to move his hands from the hood, Officer Lake then used a Taser on Sterling, who fell to his knees, but then began to get back up. The officers ordered him to get down, and Officer Lake attempted unsuccessfully to use his Taser on Sterling again. Officer Salamoni holstered his weapon, and then tackled Sterling; both went to the ground, with Officer Salamoni on top of Sterling, who was on his back with his right hand and shoulder partially under the hood of a car. Officer Lake joined them on the ground, kneeling on Sterling’s left arm while Officer Salamoni attempted to gain control over Sterling’s right arm. Officer Salamoni then yelled, ‘Going for his pocket. He’s got a gun! Gun!’ Officer Salamoni then unsuccessfully attempted to gain control of Sterling’s right hand, while Officer Lake drew his weapon and yelled at Sterling, again directing him not to move. Less than one second later, during a point at which the location of Sterling’s right hand was not visible to the cameras, Officer Salamoni again yelled that Sterling was ‘going for the gun!’ Officer Salamoni then fired three shots into Sterling’s chest.”

Sterling’s death sparked a wave of protests and riots across the Baton Rouge area.

“We don’t normally announce the declination of charges in this manner, particularly in a situation like this, where there will be a state investigation to follow,” Amundson said. “We simply felt that making a public statement was the right thing to do in a case that meant so much to so many.”

When word of the DOJ’s decision leaked yesterday, Sterling’s family reacted with shock and sorrow.

“It hurts so bad. I was trying to prepare myself for this. It’s a horrible pain. It’s like going back to the first day,” Sterling’s aunt Sandra Sterling told WBRZ upon hearing the news.


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