BATON ROUGE (CN) — Louisiana will not bring criminal charges against two white police officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling, a black man, which sparked widespread protests two years ago, the attorney general’s office said Tuesday.
Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office issued its findings nearly 11 months after the Department of Justice declined to file federal criminal charges for Sterling’s death.
Baton Rouge police Officer Blane Salamoni shot and killed Sterling after Salamoni and Officer Howie Lake arrived at a convenience store where 37-year-old Sterling was selling homemade CDs in the parking lot in the early morning of July 5, 2016. Lake helped wrestle Sterling to the ground but did not fire his gun.
Two cellphone videos of the incident quickly spread on the internet, showing Sterling pinned to the ground by the officers moments before he was shot.
The videos did not show that Sterling had a gun, and immediately after the shooting police officers confiscated a third video: surveillance footage from the store.
Uncertainty over the details of the shooting, combined with outrage over other cases of police violence against unarmed black men fueled the Black Lives Matter movement and led to nationwide protests in the days after the killing. More than 200 protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge.
“The seminal question presented is whether Officers Howie Lake and Blane Salamoni can be held criminally responsible for the death of Alton Sterling,” Landry said at a news conference announcing Landry’s decision. He said his office concluded that criminal charges were not warranted.
“Our investigation has concluded officers Lake and Salamoni attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling based upon probable cause. During that encounter, Mr. Sterling continued to resist the officers’ efforts,” Landry said in a statement.
Though criminal charges will not be sought, this is not the end of the investigation, as the police department will hold hearings Friday on whether to discipline the officers. It said it also will release four as-yet-unseen videos of the incident.
The report on the department’s decision not to bring charges came Tuesday morning after Landry met with Sterling’s family to inform them of the decision.
After meeting with Landry, Sterling’s aunt, Veda Washington, wiped tears from her face, according to CNN.
“They’re not going to bring charges on anybody. Why would they do that?” Veda told the news network.
Landry said his conclusions drew from the federal investigation and from his own office’s investigation, which included interviews with eyewitnesses.
Attorneys for Sterling’s family slammed Landry’s decision.
“It takes courage … to fight for justice; we didn’t do that in this situation,” attorney Chris Stewart said in a statement.
After the disciplinary hearings Friday, police said they will release four additional videos of the shooting: two body camera recordings, the store surveillance footage and footage from the dashboard camera inside the patrol car.
Video surveillance showed a struggle between the officers and Sterling outside the Triple S Food Mart when they asked Sterling to put his hands on the car.
When Sterling did not comply, Landry’s report said, Officer Salamoni instructed Lake to Tase Sterling. Lake did, and Sterling momentarily reacted, but after the officers told him to get to the ground and he did not, Lake Tased him again, to “no effect,” according to the report.
During the ensuing struggle, Salamoni pulled out his gun and told Sterling: “If you move, I swear to God,” according to Landry’s report.
As Sterling continued to move, according to the report, Salamoni drew his gun and pointed it at Sterling.
“Officer Salamoni also yells to Officer Lake, ‘He’s going for the gun.’ Officer Salamoni then fired three times at Sterling’s chest and rolls off of him keeping his handgun pointed at Sterling,” according to the report.
Sterling sat up, Lake yelled at him to “get on the ground,” and Sterling rolled onto his side, away from Salamoni and Lake’s view, and Salamoni again fired shots at him, the report said.
Landry’s report noted that when Sterling rolled onto his side, his right pocket and side were out of the officers’ view.
Afterward, Lake reportedly removed a loaded .38 caliber handgun from Sterling’s right front pocket.
Salamoni apparently did not see Lake remove the gun and began searching Sterling’s pockets himself, video shows, and asked Lake where the gun was.
“These actions by Officer Salamoni support his belief that Sterling was actually armed during the encounter,” Landry’s report says. Sterling was pronounced dead on the scene due to gunshot wounds to his chest and back.
Landry’s office said it was barred from reviewing any of the evidence related to the death until the federal investigation had been completed and it was for that reason that the state’s investigation took an additional 10 months.
The federal investigation, which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to file federal charges, was issued on May 3, 2017.
The state then took over the investigation to inquire whether state law had been violated, and Landry’s office reviewed “extensive investigative materials” produced by the Department of Justice, including thousands of pages of documents, reports and video evidence, Landry’s office said.
Landry said an autopsy showed illegal drugs in Sterling’s system at the time of his death.
“Considering this, it is reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence, and that contributed to his noncompliance,” Landry said at the news conference and in the report.