Baton Rouge Officer Is Fired in Alton Sterling Case; Another Is Suspended


The chief’s announcement was expected to bring a modicum of relief to activists and Mr. Sterling’s family members, who have grown increasingly frustrated after the state and federal decisions.

The decision also comes amid tension and protests over another police shooting in Sacramento. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man, was shot at more than 20 times by the police in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. A private autopsy commissioned by Mr. Clark’s family and released Friday found that eight bullets had struck him, and that his death took three to 10 minutes, raising questions about why he did not receive medical care more quickly.

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Police Chief Murphy Paul of Baton Rouge, La., announcing disciplinary decision for the two officers who shot Alton Sterling in 2016. His action came after the Justice Department and Louisiana’s attorney general, Jeff Landry, declined to seek charges.

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Josh Brasted/Getty Images

Part of Mr. Sterling’s fatal encounter in Baton Rouge was captured in a widely seen cellphone video, in which the officers can be seen holding down Mr. Sterling. At one point someone can be heard saying, “He’s got a gun! Gun!”

An officer immediately draws his weapon and, after some more shouting, what appear to be gunshots ring out. The camera points elsewhere, and more apparent gunshots follow. Officer Salamoni fired all of the rounds.

A state report noted that Officer Lake had found a .38-caliber handgun in Mr. Sterling’s pocket after the shooting. The report also included the results of a toxicology test, which said Mr. Sterling’s blood contained alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine and THC. The amount of methamphetamine, the report said, was associated with “abusers who exhibited violent and irrational behavior.”

Mr. Sterling resisted officers’ commands to place his hands on a car; at one point, as they struggled, Officer Salamoni drew his handgun and told Mr. Sterling, using expletives, not to move, or he would shoot him in the head.

Officer Lake used his Taser on Mr. Sterling twice, but the shocks did not end the altercation.

The two officers may now appeal their punishments to a civil service board, which will hold public proceedings and uphold, vacate or modify the punishments. The officers may then appeal to a state district court.

Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor of Baton Rouge, has said publicly that she would like to see Officer Salamoni fired and Officer Lake disciplined. Ms. Broome, who was elected in 2016, pledged during her campaign that she would replace the police chief, fulfilling that promise late last year with the announcement of Mr. Paul’s appointment.

Lawyers for the two officers are almost certain in the appeals process to seize on the mayor’s statements calling for the discipline of the officers, and argue that the punishments were a foregone conclusion, said Henry D.H. Olinde, a Baton Rouge lawyer with significant experience with civil service cases.

“The question’s going to be, did the mayor’s declaration in any way influence the decision of the police chief?” he said.

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Baton Rouge Officers Will Not Be Charged in Alton Sterling’s Killing


Another video of the shooting, filmed by the owner of the store, depicted the encounter from a different angle. That video showed one of the officers removing something from Mr. Sterling’s pocket. Witnesses later said they saw a handgun on the ground next to Mr. Sterling — the federal government said it was a loaded .38 caliber revolver — but his relatives said they were not aware that he owned a gun.

Mr. Sterling had a long criminal history, including convictions for battery and illegal possession of a gun.

The Justice Department, which said it could not meet the high legal standard required to charge a police officer with willfully violating someone’s civil rights, closed its inquiry last year. That decision was a significant disappointment to members of Mr. Sterling’s family and other critics of the police, who regarded the shooting as a murder. In a summary of its findings, the department said it had reviewed multiple videos of the encounter and interviewed both officers, who said Mr. Sterling had been resistant throughout the encounter.

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A screen grab from a cellphone video that shows Mr. Sterling being held by two Baton Rouge police officers.

Credit
Arthur Reed, via Associated Press

“Officer Salamoni reported that he saw the gun coming out and attempted to grab it, but Sterling jerked away and attempted to grab the gun again,” the Justice Department wrote last year. “Officer Salamoni then saw ‘silver’ and knew that he had seen a gun, so he began firing. Both officers reported that after the first three shots, they believed that Sterling was attempting to reach into his right pocket again, so Officer Salamoni fired three more times into Sterling’s back.”

Some witnesses offered contradictory accounts, but the Justice Department said the evidence was “insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt” that the officers violated federal law, which requires that an officer act deliberately and not merely with negligence, poor judgment or error.

Yet L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer for Mr. Sterling’s family, said last year that Justice Department officials had informed them that the actions of the officers “were outrageous, were inappropriate, were not following procedure.”

Lawyers also said that Mr. Sterling’s relatives were shown enhanced video and audio clips revealing that Officer Salamoni had said to Mr. Sterling, “I’ll kill you, bitch,” or something like it, as he put a gun to Mr. Sterling’s head.

When the Justice Department ended its review, there were renewed protests in Baton Rouge, but they were relatively muted compared to those the previous summer. It then fell to Mr. Landry to determine whether the state would bring any charges.

Officers Salamoni and Lake have been on paid leave since the shooting.

Before his announcement on Tuesday, Mr. Landry, a Republican former congressman who was elected attorney general in 2015, had said relatively little about the case. Soon after the shooting, he described it as “a tragic incident.”

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