NEW ORLEANS -- Attorneys representing the children of Alton Sterling, a Black man fatally shot by a Baton Rouge police officer in 2016, said Thursday that a decision by local officials against offering $5 million to settle a pending civil case showed they were uninformed about the matter.
Sterling was fatally shot on July 5, 2016, outside a Baton Rouge convenience store during a struggle.
Lawyers for Sterling's five children subsequently filed a wrongful death suit in 2017 against the city, its police department and former police chief and the two officers involved. The suit alleges the shooting fit a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force by Baton Rouge Police. it also claims poor training and inadequate police procedures led to Sterling's death.
Officer Blane Salamoni shot and killed Sterling outside the store where the 37-year-old black man was selling homemade CDs. Officer Howie Lake II helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn’t fire his gun. Two cellphone videos of the shooting quickly spread on social media after the killing, leading to protests that year in which nearly 200 people were arrested.
Both the East Baton Rouge Parish attorney and lawyers for Sterling's family met with a mediator on Oct. 3, 2019, about the case and they agreed on a proposed $5 million figure. On Wednesday, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council heard the matter, which needed seven votes for the settlement to be approved. Six council members voted yes, five voted no and one abstained, meaning the judgment failed.
Barring a settlement, the lawsuit is set to go to trial in March 2021.
Attorney Chris Stewart said at a news conference in Baton Rouge that he was surprised by the decision.
"It was perfectly clear that the city council had no clue what is going on in this case,” Stewart said. “It was clear they were not informed about anything going on in this case and that puts the city at risk. The misinformation that was given lay in the hands of the parish attorney.”
“When a jury actually hears all the horrific things, not just what officer Salamoni did, which the video backed up, but what supervisors and superiors did to allow him to remain on the force, that jury verdict could easily be $100 million,” Stewart added.
Stewart and Sterling's other attorneys accused Parish Attorney Andy Dotson of failing to provide council members with appropriate legal advice or information related to the case.
Attorneys said the family would have considered the $5 million judgment if it had passed, but were shocked at how little “accurate” information the Council members had as they considered the measure.
“If you would have heard the council last night you would’ve thought they were never part of those conversations,” said attorney Mike Adams.
Dotson told The Advocate he couldn’t comment on pending litigation and noted that his door is always open to council members.
“We have been, and always will be, available for our Metro-Council members to discuss any pending litigation in our office,” Dotson said.