A search warrant for surveillance video from the store where a black Louisiana man was killed by white police officers a week ago says that officers saw “the butt of a gun” in Alton Sterling’s pocket during the arrest and that he tried “to reach for the gun from his pocket.”
The Justice Department has opened a federal civil rights investigation of Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge. Louisiana Atty. Gen. Jeff Landry said in a statement that he won’t have access to the federal investigation on the shooting until it’s completed and a decision has been made on potential federal charges.
East Baton Rouge Dist. Atty. Hillar C. Moore III said the Justice Department would rather not have “parallel investigations.”
“It’s better that [Justice Department officials] do their work. They’re completely independent, from nowhere around here,” he said.
Moore also said he’s recusing himself from any state criminal investigation into the shooting death of Sterling. He cited his professional relationship with the parents of one of the officers involved in the shooting, Blane Salamoni.
On Monday, convenience store owner Abdullah Muflahi filed a lawsuit against Baton Rouge police alleging that he was illegally detained after he recorded the confrontation between police and Sterling on his cellphone. The suit says he was kept in the back of a police vehicle for four hours and detained at the Louisiana State Police headquarters for two hours while he was questioned.
After nearly a week of protests over Sterling’s death, Baton Rouge police are taking criticism for their methods of dealing with demonstrators. Nearly 200 were arrested over the weekend, and the district attorney said Monday that any decisions on charges against the protesters will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Protests have spread across the country as people express outrage over the recent deaths of Sterling and another black man at the hands of police in Minnesota.
“We’re going to do as good job as we can, as quickly as we can, to try to go through the [police] reports as they come in,” Moore said.
Moore suggested that “first offenders” and people who may have just “stepped over a line” could have their cases resolved more quickly than those of protesters accused of carrying guns or injuring officers.
But with tensions rising since last week’s killings of Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minnesota by white officers, and an attack on police by a black sniper in Dallas that killed five officers, many have questioned whether the police response has been appropriate.
Kristy Carter said she’s been protesting every night since Sterling was killed. She said that officers outside the police station said they don’t have a problem as long as protesters don’t cross barricades or stop traffic — but that in practice it’s different.
“They are telling us not to be violent, but they are being violent against us,” Carter said of police.
Jade Flint said police seemed to be getting more agitated as Saturday evening protests went on.
“The job is to protect us while we are out here trying to protest for our rights. Not to agitate us and pick and grab people,” she said.
Kira Marrero, a 22-year-old New Orleans resident who graduated last year from Williams College in Massachusetts, was the first protester freed from Baton Rouge’s jail on Sunday. She accused police of acting in an “inflammatory” manner and said an officer had pointed a rifle at her and other protesters before her arrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana said Monday that Baton Rouge police “used violent, militarized tactics on groups of people who have gathered peacefully in protest of Alton Sterling’s killing.”
On Sunday, Amnesty International questioned the high number of arrests during Saturday’s protests and whether it was a “proportionate response to peaceful protests.”
Louisiana authorities have said repeatedly that they have no problem with protesters and pointed out the number of rallies that have been coordinated with authorities and have gone off without problems.
On Sunday, about 2,000 people rallied outside the Capitol building, State Police Maj. Doug Cain said, calling that protest “very organized and peaceful.”
In the first few days after Sterling’s death, police took a more reserved approach to enforcement, keeping a low profile as hundreds of people gathered outside the convenience store where he died.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said Friday that his department was striving to avoid a “military-style response” to the protests.
By Friday, tensions ratcheted up. Police have arrested 200 demonstrators over a three-day period and taken to the streets in riot gear, carrying rifles and driving armored vehicles.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said Sunday he’s “very proud” of how Louisiana’s law enforcement agencies responded to the protests and that he doesn’t believe police officers have been overly aggressive.
A Baton Rouge police spokesman said Monday that the arrests stemmed largely from people not complying with officers’ commands.
During a confrontation Sunday evening near an interstate ramp, a police officer in an armored vehicle had warned protesters over a loudspeaker that they would be arrested if they didn’t leave the area. Within minutes, officers in riot gear began making dozens of arrests.
“They had several opportunities to get out of the road, to disperse. They were ignored,” said Baton Rouge Police Sgt. Don Coppola.
Asked why some officers are armed with high-powered rifles at protests, Coppola said, “You don’t really know what you’re walking into. You want to have every precautionary means that you may need ... to disperse these crowds.”
Coppola said the department respects people’s right to protest peacefully, and that people from outside Baton Rouge are largely responsible for confrontations at protests.
Police have confiscated three rifles, three shotguns and two pistols during protests, Coppola said earlier in an email.
One officer was hit by a projectile and injured in the weekend protests, authorities said.
MORE NATIONAL NEWS