Catherine E. Shoichet et al., CNN, July 6, 2016
A day after a video showed white officers pinning down and shooting a black man outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, federal authorities are investigating the case.
Alton Sterling, 37, is dead. The U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is leading an investigation into what happened. And the president of the NAACP’s local branch is calling for the city’s police chief and mayor to resign.
Tensions are running high as officials vow to be transparent about how they handle the controversial case. Here’s the latest on what we know:
- The officers involved in Tuesday’s shooting–Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II–have been placed on administrative leave.
- The U.S. attorney’s office in Baton Rouge, the FBI and state police also will be involved in the investigation, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
- “I don’t plan on resigning,” police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said in response to calls for him to step down. “We have done a lot of good in this community. We have worked very hard in this community. Do we have an issue right now? Yes. But we are working right now to bring the truth out.”
- He vowed authorities would conduct a transparent and independent investigation. “Like you, there is a lot that we do not understand, and at this point, like you, I am demanding answers,” Dabadie said. “Like you all, my prayers are with this community, and especially with the family and loved ones of Mr. Sterling, and all the members of the Baton Rouge Police Department.”
- Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden defended his city’s response to Sterling’s death, noting that officials had been discussing the importance of conducting an independent investigation from the outset. “It’s not like we need to be hand-held and spoon-fed when it comes to doing what’s right,” Holden said. The mayor described Baton Rouge as an “inclusive community” with top-ranked police, fire and emergency medical services. “We have a wound right now, but we’ll be healing, and making this city and parish whole again,” he said.
- Authorities urged people to be peaceful if they protest the shooting.
A graphic cell phone video of the shooting, apparently recorded by a witness inside a nearby car, was shared widely on social media. It quickly sparked local protests and drew national attention.
Police say they came to the scene early Tuesday after an anonymous 911 caller reported a man threatening him with a gun.
The 48-second video begins with the camera facing a car dashboard. A single pop is heard. Then someone yells, “Get on the ground.”
Another pop follows.
The camera then pans up to two officers confronting a man in a red shirt. The man is Sterling, according to his family’s attorney.
An officer pulls him over the hood of a silver car and pins him to the ground. Once he’s down, the officer begins to assist a second officer in restraining Sterling.
Seconds later, someone shouts, “He’s got a gun.”
An officer can be seen drawing something from his waist and pointing it at the man on the ground.
More yelling follows, though it’s hard to make out what’s being said. Then there are two more bangs.
The witnesses inside the car shout and swear. Three more bangs go off. A woman in the car starts crying.
There is police body camera footage of the shooting of Sterling–even though the cameras were dislodged–Baton Rouge police Lt. Johnny Dunham told reporters Wednesday.
“That footage may not be as good as we hoped for. During the altercation, the body cameras did become dislodged, but they did stay on and (were) active and recording at this time,” Dunham said.
Sterling was known as the “CD man,” a laid-back guy who would sell tunes and DVDs outside the convenience store where he was shot, according to local media.
“Alton was a respected man. He was beloved in the community. He did not deserve the treatment and this excessive force that was exerted on him by the police department,” Jordan, his attorney, told CNN.
Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S Food Mart, said he saw the officers slam Sterling on a car.
“They told him not to move,” he said. “He was asking them what he did wrong.”
He said the officers then used a stun gun on Sterling at least once before shooting.
After the shooting, Muflahi said an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and pulled out a gun.
A preliminary autopsy found Sterling’s cause of death was from “multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back,” East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark told CNN on Wednesday.
At a press conference Wednesday, the president of the NAACP’s branch in Baton Rouge called for the city’s police chief and mayor to resign in the wake of the shooting.
“We’re actually here today to speak to the culture of the Baton Rouge Police Department. This incident is only one incident in many,” Michael McClanahan told reporters. “What we’re going to do is root out the 1% of bad police officers that go around being the judge, the jury and executioner of innocent people, period, but more specifically, innocent black lives.”
The officers involved should be held accountable, McClanahan said.
“I’m calling on anybody in this city with any backbone to go and arrest those two officers,” he said. “If the system will work for anybody, let it work for them, too.”
[Editor’s Note: According to this article, “Sterling was a registered sex offender, state records show. He was convicted in 2000 of carnal knowledge of a juvenile and was released from prison in 2004. Details of that case were not immediately available. Sterling also had convictions for aggravated battery, criminal damage to property, unauthorized entry and domestic abuse battery, The Advocate reports. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 2009 for possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute and carrying an illegal weapon with a controlled dangerous substance.”]