Police won't face charges in Alton Sterling shooting case

Attorney General Landry won't prosecute the officers who killed Alton Sterling.

March 27, 2018, 5:32 PM

The two Baton Rouge police officers involved in the controversial 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling won't face charges in the case, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said Tuesday.

Speaking from the steps of the attorney general's office, Sterling's family said they would get justice from God instead.

Sterling's aunt bluntly called the death of her nephew "murder" and called out one of the cops by name for ending his life.

"Shame on you Blane Salamoni, shame on you for killing Alton the way you did," she said. "You took an oath to serve, not to kill. You made a decision that night and it was a bad one. You killed the wrong man, sir."

She also warned others that the same cop who killed Sterling is back on the job.

"You put a killer back on the streets," she said. "So watch your kids at night."

Louisiana lawmaker C. Denise Marcelle called on members of the community to react peacefully to the news.

"We don't need a bunch of marches or burning cars or burning buildings -- what we need are a bunch of burning people," she said. "We need burning hearts to replace people not doing their jobs."

Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot and killed on July 5, 2016, after being confronted by a pair of white police officers -- Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II -- outside Baton Rouge’s Triple S Convenience Store.

Security cameras captured the officers shooting Sterling at close range. Protests erupted around the country shortly after news of his death spread.

Last year, Corey Amundson, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, announced that his office declined to pursue charges against either Salamoni or Lake after an “exhaustive, almost year-long” federal investigation.

PHOTO: Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson announces the findings regarding Federal Criminal Investigation of Alton Sterling at the U.S. Federal Court House on May 3, 2017, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Acting U.S. Attorney Corey Amundson announces the findings regarding Federal Criminal Investigation of Alton Sterling at the U.S. Federal Court House on May 3, 2017, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Sean Gardner/Getty Images

A wrongful death lawsuit was filed last June by lawyers for Sterling's five children against both officers, the police department, its chief, and the city of Baton Rouge. The suit accuses the Baton Rouge Police Department of lax training and poor procedures -- factors that caused Sterling to be shot and killed.

The suit is still pending.

According to the state of Louisiana, which said there wasn't enough evidence to bring the case to a grand jury, Salamoni gave Sterling several verbal warnings and used non-lethal force before firing his firearm.

Landry said that Salamoni believed Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket before attempting to use a taser on him, with no success. It was only after they tried non-lethal measures, Landry concludes, that the officers reverted to lethal force, drawing his weapon and firing three times, and then firing three more times; the last spray of bullets struck Sterling in the back.

PHOTO: Cameron Sterling, center, son of Alton Sterling, who was killed by Baton Rouge police, speaks to the media outside the Triple S Food Mart, in Baton Rouge, La., July 13, 2016.
Cameron Sterling, center, son of Alton Sterling, who was killed by Baton Rouge police, speaks to the media outside the Triple S Food Mart, in Baton Rouge, La., July 13, 2016.
Gerald Herbert/AP

Landry said Tuesday that Sterling "clearly matched a description" provided by a 911 caller, which described a man selling compact discs in front of the food mart.

Once confronted, the police officers determined that Sterling was in possession of a "firearm in his right front pocket" of a shirt he was wearing, Landry said.

That weapon, Landry later said, was a "loaded .38 caliber firearm."

While the officers were initially able to move Sterling toward their police vehicle, he "attempted to resist," Landry said.

"That's when Officer Salamoni draws his taser with ill effect," he said. "Mr. Sterling falls to his knees but continues to be noncompliant."

Another attempt was made to verbally get Sterling to obey and submit to custody, but Landry said he fails and Lake "tases him again for the second time."

Then, Landry said, Salamoni holsters his weapon and a struggle ensues where Salamoni tackles Sterling. While he manages to get control of Sterling's right arm, his partner struggled to get control of Sterling's left arm.

"Both try to get control of Sterling's hands while he continues to resist," the prosecutor said.

At that point, Landry said, Salamoni allegedly drew his weapon again and trained it on Sterling before warning him, "If you move, I swear to god."

The officers continue to struggle with Sterling and Landry said Salamoni is heard saying, "He's going for a gun."

That is when the first volley of shots are fired, hitting Sterling in the chest.

Sterling, Landry noted, rolled away and his hands were "concealed from both officers."

That is when Sterling, Landry said, tries to get up and Salamoni "fires three more times."

PHOTO: Alton Sterling is seen in an undated Facebook file photo
Alton Sterling is seen in an undated Facebook file photo
Social Media via Reuters

The state prosecutor said that during the 10-month investigation, including re-interviewing every eyewitness and "all the witnesses in the event," the office concluded that Salamoni and Lake "attempted to make a lawful arrest of Mr. Sterling" based on both probable cause and the fact that Sterling "continued to resist the arrest."

PHOTO: In this photo made from video, Alton Sterling is held by two Baton Rouge police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 5, 2016, moments before Sterling was fatally shot.
In this photo made from video, Alton Sterling is held by two Baton Rouge police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 5, 2016, moments before Sterling was fatally shot.
Arthur Reed via AP

Landry said the police officers "used verbal commands" and "several non-lethal techniques to gain control of Mr. Sterling," who allegedly was "under the influence" of "various illegal drugs."

The fact that Sterling was impaired, Landry noted, also "contributed to [his] noncompliance."

According to the autopsy that was performed on Sterling by the East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner's Office, the 327-pound man died as a result of "multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back."

Toxicology test results came back detecting cocaine, methamphetamine, hydrocodone and cannabinoids in Sterling's system, according to the autopsy report.

ABC News' attempts to reach Lake's attorney were not immediately returned.

However, Salamoni's attorney John McLindon told ABC News that he has been told by Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul that his client will face an internal probe and disciplinary hearing within a week.

This, just after the decision came down that Salamoni and his partner Lake won't be charged in the shooting death of Sterling.

"Now we move onto the next chapter of Salamoni probably being fired and we will then appeal that," McLindon said.

On learning that Landy was not going to prosecute, the attorney confirmed that Salamoni, who remains on paid administrative leave, "was very relieved and very happy with the decision" but was confident his name would be cleared.

"We were not surprised by this decision, it's one that we expected," he said.

McLindon added that Salamoni wishes to continue police work, but he "probably won't be able to be one in Baton Rouge."

And if Salamoni is sacked from the force his prospects anywhere else are dire.

"Being fired from the Baton Rouge Police would make it tough for him to him to be a police officer anywhere else," he said.

ABC News' Barbara Schmitt contributed to this report.

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