The federal decision, first reported on Tuesday, that Alton Sterling’s shooting death was not the fault of the policemen who shot him was made clear by the Justice Department which said “insufficient evidence” exists for moving ahead with federal criminal charges against the police officers who shot and killed the Baton Rouge, La., man last summer.
Baton Rouge Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson said in his announcement Wednesday afternoon that, “There are no winners here, and there are no victories for anybody. A man has died, a father, a nephew has died. My heart goes out to the family.”
But attorneys for Sterling’s family is still urging Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry to take steps to prosecute officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake. The family held its own press conference at the same time Admunson made the announcement and attorney L. Chris Stewart asked Landry to “just give justice where it’s due,” according to the Baton Rouge Advocate. He also called the actions of Salamoni “outrageous, unexplainable,” saying the officer put a gun to Sterling’s head and told him “I’m going to kill you, b*tch.”
Landry’s office said they will review the case with Louisiana State Police when they get the federal material and a state prosecutor will be assigned.
“It is important for the public to know that this matter will be handled by the most professional and proficient law enforcement use of force team in Louisiana,” Landry said, noting that State Police often do investigations of shootings involving police officers.
Sterling, 37, was confronted by Salamoni and Lake last July 5 in front of a convenience store in Baton Rouge while he was selling CDs. The officers had received an anonymous tip that Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun. The officers pinned Sterling to the ground, but in a video of the incident one officer can be heard yelling “he’s got a gun!” Soon after, shots rang out, fatally wounding Sterling. Officers said in later affidavits that they saw a gun butt in his pocket, but it is not clear from the video that he was reaching for any weapon.
In the summary of the federal decision, the Justice Department says video footage does not “show Sterling’s right hand at the time those shots were fired” but “they show Sterling’s right hand was not under Officer Salamoni’s control.”
Federal investigators also said two witnesses told them that they could see Sterling’s right hand and it wasn’t in his pocket. But at the same time, because of the speed at which the incident took place, they said their accounts could not disprove the officers’ claim that Sterling was reaching for a gun.
“It’s no longer a civil matter, it’s a human matter,” Sandra Sterling, Alton’s aunt said after the decision was announced at an emotional press conference. “Alton was human, he’s no longer here but his voice will be heard, though us.”