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Alton Sterling case: No charges for La. officers in black man's shooting death

Shooting death of Alton Sterling

BATON ROUGE -- Two Louisiana officers who fatally shot a black man in 2016 won't be prosecuted in the death, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday.

Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot to death July 5, 2016, as two white officers pinned him to the pavement outside a Louisiana convenience store where he had been selling CDs.The officers were responding to the report of a man with a gun. Officer Blane Salamoni shot and killed Sterling during the struggle. Officer Howie Lake II helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn't fire his gun.

The killing was captured on cellphone video and circulated widely online, sparking demonstrations across Baton Rouge.

Landry made the announcement after meeting with family members of Sterling. Relatives and their lawyers angrily denounced the decision.

Recent investigations into police-involved shootings

Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling's children, Cameron, said the officers killed Sterling "in cold blood."

"They took a human away. They took a father away. They took somebody away that did not deserve to be away," she said.

Veda Washington-Abusaleh, Sterling's aunt, was in tears after meeting with Landry.

"They said they didn't find anything," she said. "They said it was justifiable, what happened to Alton was justifiable."

Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation immediately after the shooting. They said Salamoni yelled that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket before shooting him three times, and then fired three more shots into Sterling's back when he began to sit up and move.

State investigators received the case in May 2017 after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it would not be pursuing civil rights charges against the officers, reports CBS affiliate WAFB-TV. Landry said his office reviewed all of the evidence compiled by the Justice Department, including opinions issued by independent experts, and also conducted its own interviews of eyewitnesses to the shooting.

He said he is "always mindful of the human element" in the case beyond his review of the facts and applicable laws.

"I know the Sterling family is hurting," Landry said. "I know that they may not agree with the decision."

Landry did not take any questions from reporters after his statement.

The officers' body cameras and a store surveillance camera also recorded the encounter. Those videos haven't been released, but Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he intends to release both after he concludes the disciplinary process for the two officers, who have remained on paid administrative leave since the July 5, 2016, shooting.

Paul said he hopes to complete the disciplinary process by Friday. Salamoni's attorney, John McLindon, said he expects his client to be fired and called it "grossly unfair" that a disciplinary hearing is planned less than a week after the end of the criminal investigation.

"I believe it's a foregone conclusion," McLindon said. "The decision has already been made."

Landry said Sterling didn't follow officer's commands and that officers first deployed a Taser twice, with little or no effect, before Sterling was fatally shot. The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling's pocket.

The officers "had reason to believe [Sterling] was armed with a firearm and was continuously resisting," Landry said.

Officers attempted to verbally warn Steling that he would be shot if he didn't comply, Landry said.

"Throughout the encounter the officers attempted several non-lethal techniques to gain control of Mr. Sterling' hands," Landry said.

Attorneys for Sterling's relatives have said federal authorities told them that Salamoni pointed a gun at Sterling's head and threatened to kill him before the struggle began. In a summary of its findings, the Justice Department said Salamoni pointed his gun at Sterling's head but didn't mention any verbal threats by the officer.

Family of Alton Sterling speaks out

Racial tensions were still simmering in Louisiana's capital when Gavin Long, a 29-year-old black military veteran from Kansas City, Missouri, ambushed police officers near a car wash on July 17, 2016. Long killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers and wounded three others before being shot dead.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore recused himself from any state criminal investigation into Sterling's death, citing his professional relationship with Salamoni's parents, who have served as police officers in Baton Rouge. Moore's recusal left Landry's office to review evidence and decide whether any state charges were warranted.

Attorneys L. Chris Stewart and Brandon DeCuir, who represent Alton Sterling's five children, said Landry met Tuesday morning with Sterling's relatives and their lawyers in Baton Rouge.

In June 2017, lawyers for Sterling's five children filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Baton Rouge, its police department and former police chief, and the two officers involved. Their suit alleges the shooting fit a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force by the Baton Rouge police. It also claims poor training and inadequate police procedures led to Sterling's death.

The mass arrests of protesters after Sterling's death spawned lawsuits that accused police of using excessive force and advancing against peaceful protesters while wearing military gear and gas masks and brandishing assault weapons. In October, a federal judge approved a class-action settlement that awards up to $1,000 in cash to dozens of protesters who claim police violated their civil rights.

Police prepared for another round of protests before the Justice Department announced its decision last year, but the response was far more subdued. After learning neither officer would be charged with federal crimes, dozens of people held a peaceful vigil outside the convenience store where Sterling was shot.

Speaking after the announcement, Stewart called the report released by the attorney general "biased." He said the office relied heavily on the opinions of two experts cited by the Justice Department without seeking independent analysis, and said the office didn't re-interview many eyewitnesses.

He said the family was disappointed the office isn't seeking justice and didn't take the case to a grand jury.

"What we all really know is it takes courage to have political office, it takes courage to be a prosecutor, it takes courage to fight for justice, and we didn't see that in this situation," Stewart said.

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