Officer who fatally shot Alton Sterling fired; videos released
Chief Murphy Paul said he fired the LEO for violating department policies on use of force and "command of temper"
By Michael Kunzelman and Anthony Izaguirre
BATON ROUGE, La. — A Louisiana police chief on Friday fired the white officer who fatally shot a black man during a struggle outside a convenience store nearly two years ago, a killing that set off widespread protests.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul announced officer Blane Salamoni's firing less than a week after Louisiana's attorney general ruled out criminal charges in Alton Sterling's July 2016 shooting death.
Paul also suspended officer Howie Lake II, the other officer involved in the deadly confrontation, for three days. Lake helped wrestle Sterling to the ground but did not fire his weapon that night.
Paul said he fired Salamoni for violating department policies on use of force and "command of temper." He suspended Lake for violating only the latter policy.
"My decision was not based on politics," Paul said during a news conference. "It was not based on emotions. It was based on the facts of the case."
Both officers had remained on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
Police also released body camera footage and other videos of the officers' deadly encounter with Sterling. Two cellphone videos of the incident quickly spread on social media after the shooting, but the new videos show the clearest and most complete picture of what happened that night.
In the body camera footage, an officer can be heard repeatedly using profanity as he shouts at Sterling and at one point threatens to shoot him in the head as Sterling asks what he did. Authorities have said Salamoni made that threat as he pointed a gun at Sterling.
When Sterling complains that the officers are hurting him, one of the officers says to use a Taser on him and an electric buzzing can be heard. The officer believed to be Salamoni then runs at Sterling, tackling him as the camera footage blurs with motion.
Someone yells "he's got a gun," then gunshots ring out.
Salamoni told an internal affairs investigator in September 2016 that he cursed at Sterling to send a message that the officers weren't "playing," according to a report released Friday. Salamoni also said he saw Sterling reach for and hold a gun in his pants pocket right before he shot him during their struggle on the ground.
Trying to explain why he swore at Sterling after the shooting, Salamoni said "he was so mad at Sterling for making him kill him and for trying to kill us," the report says.
L. Chris Stewart, a lawyer representing two of Sterling's five children, said the newly released videos show officer Salamoni attacked Sterling without provocation "like a wild dog."
"The most obvious thing that stands out is Alton wasn't fighting back at all," Stewart said. "He's trying to defuse it the whole time."
Salamoni shot Sterling six times during the struggle outside the Triple S Food Mart, where the 37-year-old black man was selling homemade CDs. After the shooting — as Sterling lies on the ground — an officer can be heard using profanity to say Sterling was stupid.
Salamoni's attorney, John McLindon, said he will appeal the officer's firing to a civil service board. Salamoni knows he probably can't return to the Baton Rouge police force but wants to prove he did nothing wrong, his lawyer said.
"He did what he was trained to do," McLindon added.
The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling's pocket. As a convicted felon, Sterling could not legally carry a gun.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced Tuesday that his office isn't charging either officer with state crimes. The Justice Department ruled out federal criminal charges last May.
Less than an hour after the chief's announcement Friday evening, Travis Hicks, 33, was selling CDs in the parking lot outside the store where Sterling was killed. He said the videos released Friday confirmed what most people in the neighborhood already knew.
Hicks said he didn't think Lake deserved to be fired but thought the fact that Salamoni was not criminally charged shows a double standard.
"If it was one of us," he said, gesturing at two African-American men browsing his table of CDs, "it would have never took that long. They would have sent us right to Angola," Hicks said, referring to Louisiana's state prison.
In June 2017, Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome called on Paul's predecessor, Carl Dabadie Jr., to fire Salamoni. Dabadie refused, saying it would be improper and premature because the shooting remained under investigation.
Salamoni, 30, had served as a Baton Rouge police officer for four years before the shooting. Lake was a three-year veteran of the force.
Lake had a separate hearing Thursday before Paul and three of his deputies before the chief announced his disciplinary decision. Lake's attorney, Kyle Kershaw, said his client wants to return to his patrol job in Baton Rouge after his brief suspension.
"Every measure that he employed was exactly what he was taught at the academy," Kershaw said.
For nearly two years, Sterling's family and many other Baton Rouge residents have called on authorities to release all of the video footage of the shooting. The shock of finally seeing and hearing it overwhelmed Andrika Williams, the mother of three of Sterling's children. Williams told her attorney, Michael Adams, that she had an anxiety attack and collapsed when she saw one of the newly released videos in a friend's social media post as she walking in her neighborhood Friday evening.
"Every time they see this footage, they relive this. It's horrible to watch," Adams said.