The 10-month long Federal investigation into the shooting death of Alton Sterling has been closed citing insufficient evidence to prove excessive use of force by the officers involved.
The United States Department of Justice officials reviewed all evidence, including all video footage including surveillance, cell phone, body-worn cameras and patrol vehicle cameras. Also, evidence gathered by the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD) crime lab; including documents related to the shooting, personal files and background materials for both officers, including prior use-of-force incidents, all dispatch recordings between and among local law enforcement, autopsy reports, crime scene photographs, toxicology reports and witness statements were considered. During the investigation the department consulted with two independent use-of-force experts whom the Civil Rights Division has previously used as government witnesses in criminal prosecutions of civil rights violations.
The investigation revealed that on July 5, 2016, at around 12:30 a.m. a 911 call was made from a location near the Triple S Food Mart (“Triple S”). The called reported that he was threatened outside of the store by a black man who was wearing a red shirt and selling CD’s. The caller also stated that the man had pulled out a gun and had the gun in his pocket. Officers Lake and Salamoni were dispatched to the call and were informed of the circumstances while en route. When they arrived they saw Sterling, who matched the description of the subject described in the call. He was standing by a table with a stack of CD’s.
What happened next, and what was captured on multiple videos, from the approach to the shooting lasted approximately 90 seconds. The officers approached Sterling and Officer Lake ordered Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car. Sterling did not immediately comply causing the officers to place their hands on his. Sterling struggled with the officers causing Salamoni to pull out his service weapon and point it toward Sterling’s head. Sterling then placed his hands on the hood, but shortly after attempted to move them causing Sterling to use the Taser on him. Sterling fell to his knees and began to get back up. He was again ordered to get down and Officer Lake again deployed his Taser on Sterling. Salamoni then holstered his weapon and tackled Sterling, causing both to fall to the ground.
Officer Salamoni landed on top of Sterling, who was on his back. Sterling’s right hand and shoulder were partially concealed under the hood of a car. Officer Lake kneeled onto Sterling’s left arm while Officer Salamoni attempted to gain control of Sterling’s right arm. Officer Salamoni then yelled, “Going for his pocket. He’s got a gun! Gun!” Officer Lake drew his weapon and ordered Sterling not to move. Officer salamoni again yelled out, “going for the gun!” Sterling’s right hand was still not visible to the cameras officials said. Officer Salamoni then fired three shots to Sterling’s chest. Sterling began to sit up and roll to his left, with his back facing the officers. He brought his right arm across his body toward the ground. Officer Lake ordered Sterling again to get on the ground, but he continued to move causing Officer Salamoni to fire three more rounds into Sterling’s back. A .38 caliber revolver was located in Sterling’s right pocket and was learned to be loaded with six bullets.
Both officers provided a detailed statement and evidence supported their statements. In order to prove a Fourth Amendment violation the officers accounts would have to have been proven false, proven that the actions were unreasonable and/or prove that the officers knew that their actions were unreasonable and took them anyway. “The evidence, in this case, is insufficient to bear the heavy burden of proof under federal criminal civil rights law,” FBI officials said. ‘The evidence also cannot establish that Sterling was not reaching for a gun when Officer Salamoni yelled that Sterling was doing so.’
Only two witnesses, among the numerous who were interviewed by the FBI said that they could see Sterling’s right hand. Due to the fact that the accounts of those two witnesses were inconsistent with what could be seen in the videos, their accounts were considered insufficient to prove the position of Sterling’s right hand and arm beyond a reasonable doubt. “Given the inconsistencies in the civilian witnesses’ perspectives and recollections and the fact that the video establishes that Officer Salamoni did not have control over Sterling’s right hand just before the shots were fired, the evidence simply cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt the position of Sterling’s right hand at the exact time of the shooting, a split-second later,” FBI officials said. “The Department therefore cannot disprove the officers’ claim beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Although the consultations with the two independent and nationally recognized use-of-force experts said that the officers actions were reasonable under the circumstances meeting constitutional standards, both experts criticized aspects of the officers’ techniques. The investigation also revealed that there were no prior incidents involving misconduct by either of the involved officers. “Accordingly, the federal investigation into this incident has been closed without prosecution,” FBI officials said. “Federal officials intend to provide the investigative file to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, which intends to conduct its own investigation into whether the conduct at issue in this investigation violated state law.”
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