BATON ROUGE (CN) – The president of the NAACP’s Baton Rouge chapter added his voice to those of protesters calling for justice after police fatally shot a black man while responding to a routine nuisance call.
“This is a new day. We will not have in our city, the capital city, anybody who allows for this type of action to take place,” NAACP president Michael McClanahan said during a news conference Wednesday morning.
Amid applause from bystanders, McClanahan called for the city’s police chief, Carl Dabadie Jr., to be fired, and for Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden to resign.
As he spoke, the U.S. Justice Department announced the FBI has opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Alton Sterling, 37, who was shot dead by police as he sold homemade compact discs in front the Triple S Food Mart, a convenience store, early Tuesday morning.
Authorities initially said Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds after an altercation with police.
According to Cpl. L’Jean McKneely, a police department spokesman, the officers later identified as Blane Salamoni, a four-year member of the department and Howie Lake II, who has been on the force for three years responded to the convenience store at about 12:35 a.m. Tuesday morning after an anonymous caller indicated a man selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatened him with a gun.
McKneely says some type of altercation ensued and one officer fatally shot the suspect.
However, as has happened in other cases notably the shooting of a black South Carolina man by a white policeman during a traffic stop an amateur video quickly emerged that appears to contradict the initial police account.
The 48-second video was evidently filmed from inside a car in the convenience store parking lot. It shows police yelling at Sterling and then taking him to the ground and restraining his arms behind his back.
As the video continues, police find what looks like a gun in Sterling’s back pocket, and the officer closest to the camera takes a gun from his own hip and points it at Sterling, firing three shots.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said the cellphone video is “disturbing to say the least.”
During a news conference of his own on Wednesday, Chief Dabadie called said the shooting was a tragedy and admitted “there is a lot that we do not understand.”
“At this point, like you, I am demanding answers,” he said.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William Clark said an autopsy shows Sterling died Tuesday of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
In an interview with WAFB-TV, Triple S Food Mart owner Abdul Mulfahi said he saw the altercation between police officers and Sterling, during which one officer Tased the struggling man while the other officer tackled him. He said he did not see Sterling shoot at officers, but that he did see the officers remove a gun from Sterling’s clothes after the shooting.
Mulfahi told CNN he was sure the shooting was caught on the store’s surveillance cameras, though he had not seen the footage, and that police came later in the day Tuesday and took the video.
Sterling’s death and the contents of the video quickly sparked protests.
A large crowd of people gathered outside the Triple S Food Mart Tuesday afternoon as the cell phone videos began circulating. The crowd, which grew to hundreds in size by evening according to accounts from the Times-Picayune, stopped traffic by stepping over cars and set off fireworks, with reportedly not a cop in sight.
By dawn Wednesday, protesters and friends had created a makeshift memorial to Sterling on the white folding tables and fold out chair he had used to sell homemade music compilations.
State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle said during the news conference Wednesday that the officers were wearing body cameras but the cameras fell off during the struggle and did not capture the shooting.
Attorney Edmond Jordan, who is also a Louisiana state legislator, told reporters “Alton was a respected man.”
“He was beloved in the community. He did not deserve the treatment and this excessive force that was exerted on his by the police department,” Jordon said. “I think that the city is going to have to give us some good answers.”
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling’s 15-year-old son, spoke during the news conference Wednesday morning.
She said Sterling was a man “who was simply trying to earn a living, to take care of his children.”
As she spoke loud sobs erupted in the background.
“His son is 15 years old and had to watch the videos being shown all over the outlets,” McMillon said.
“As a mother I have now been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what has been done to his father … I hurt more for him and his loss. As a parent, one of the greatest pains is to see your child hurt and know there is nothing you can do about it.
“This event will not go unnoticed,” she said. “I for one will not rest, and will not allow y’all to sweep him into the dirt.”
Both officers have been placed on administrative while the FBI conducts its investigation.
The Justice Department said the inquiry will be conducted both by the FBI and the
U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana.
“The Justice Department will collect all available facts and evidence and conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation. As this is an ongoing investigation we are not able to comment further at this time,” a statement from the agency said.
In this Tuesday, July 5, 2016 photo made from video, Alton Sterling is held by two Baton Rouge police officers, with one holding a hand gun, outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. Moments later, one of the officers shot and killed Sterling, a black man who had been selling CDs outside the store, while he was on the ground. (Arthur Reed via AP)
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