More than 20 months after the fatal police shooting of a black man outside a Baton Rouge mini-mart touched off protests nationwide over police treatment of African Americans, the Louisiana attorney general said Tuesday that he would not charge two white officers in the death.
The decision from Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry’s office brought strong condemnation from Alton Sterling’s family and civil rights activists, and closed the possibility of criminal charges in one of the most prominent police shootings in recent years.
Landry’s announcement came close to 11 months after the U.S. Department of Justice similarly ruled out federal charges against the officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II.
Violent protests in Baton Rouge after Sterling’s death led to nearly 200 arrests. His killing and several other fatal police shootings — along with retaliatory attacks on police in the summer of 2016 — became a campaign issue in the presidential election.
After meeting with Landry on Tuesday, Sterling’s family members said they were angry but not surprised at the news.
“They’re not going to bring charges on anybody. Why would they do that? This is white America,” Veda Washington-Abusaleh, Sterling’s aunt, told reporters after the meeting.
They’re not going to bring charges on anybody. Why would they do that? This is white America
“The system failed us,” said Sandra Sterling, another aunt. “He was not a monster .… This was a family man. A family man.”
Sterling, 37, was shot dead on July 5, 2016, after police responded to a 911 call reporting a man making a threat with a gun in front of the Triple S Food Mart. Sterling was known for selling CDs in the area. Bystander videos that went viral showed officers holding Sterling down and, at one point, yelling, “He’s got a gun! Gun!” before gunshots are heard.
Landry said Tuesday that his investigation found that the officers “attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling based upon probable cause,” and that the officers believed Sterling was armed as he resisted arrest.
Witness and police accounts differed at the time on whether Sterling threatened officers and if he reached for a gun. In a report also released Tuesday, Landry’s office said that Lake found a .38-caliber pistol in Sterling’s right front pocket, and that Sterling was shot six times, each bullet from Salmoni’s gun. The encounter lasted less than 90 seconds.
Landry also said In the report that Sterling had drugs in his system. Landry’s office said those drugs included opioids and cocaine.
“It is reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence and that contributed to his noncompliance,” Landry said.
The findings from Landry’s office were similar to those of the Department of Justice, which sought to determine if officers had violated Sterling’s civil rights and whether the shooting was justified. It was the first investigation into a high-profile police shooting completed in the Trump administration under Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions.
“Given the totality of the circumstances — that the officers had been fighting with Sterling and had attempted less-than-lethal methods of control; that they knew Sterling had a weapon; that Sterling had reportedly brandished a gun at another person; and that Sterling was much larger and stronger than either officer, the department cannot prove either that the shots were unconstitutional or that they were willful,” the department said last year in a statement.
At the time of that announcement, Sterling family attorney Chris Stewart said Department of Justice officials told the family that the investigation found that Salamoni pointed a gun at Sterling’s head and said, “I’ll kill you, bitch.”
Sterling family members said Tuesday that they would continue arguing their case through a wrongful death civil lawsuit filed last year against the two officers, the police department and the city of Baton Rouge. The suit says poor training and improper police practices left the officers ill-equipped to respond to the 911 call and that the shooting was part of a racist pattern of excessive use of force. The officers have been on paid leave since the shooting.
Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has focused on the Sterling case, also said they were disappointed in decision.
“We continue to mourn the brutal murder of Alton Sterling,” Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a cofounder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network, said in a statement. ”Black people continue to be betrayed by this country, a country that claims liberty and freedom for all, yet continues to allow for the murders of black people with impunity.”
The shooting was among a string of fatal incidents involving police in July 2016.
The day after Sterling was shot, the police shooting in Minnesota of Philando Castile set off protests after his girlfriend streamed a live broadcast on Facebook of Castile bleeding to death in the front seat of his car. Castile, who was 32 and black, was pulled over by an officer outside St. Paul. Castile told the officer he had a weapon, which he was licensed to carry. The officer opened fire, he testified later, when he thought Castile was reaching for the gun.
Last June, the officer who shot Castile, Jeronimo Yanez, who is Latino, was acquitted of all charges in the shooting, including second-degree murder.
The day after Castile’s shooting, five police officers in Dallas were fatally shot by an Army-trained sniper during a protest over police shootings. The 25-year-old shooter, Micah Johnson, was black. Police said he left a trail of evidence that he wanted to kill white officers in retaliation for police shootings of black men. Officers responding to the shooting killed Johnson.
Ten days later, three officers were shot dead in Baton Rouge by 29-year-old Gavin Long. The former Marine, who was black, had a history of online ramblings in which he described violence as the solution to the oppression of black Americans. Long was also killed by responding police officers.
1:10 p.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting.
This article was originally published at 8:35 a.m.