BATON ROUGE – The Department of Justice will not bring charges against the officers involved in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling last July 5th. The decision was officially announced Wednesday after it had been reported the day before by several major news outlets.
The family of Alton Sterling met with the Department of Justice to get the official notice Wednesday morning. Afterward, the two groups had press conferences at the same time, prosecutors saying that there was not enough evidence to bring federal charges against the officers and the family and its representatives saying that they are encouraged that there is enough evidence to bring a successful state prosecution.
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Family members appealed to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry to do just that.
Landry indicated that he would request the investigative material from the Department of Justice and make sure that it gets to the State Police for a state investigation.
"It is important for the public to know that this matter will be handled by the most professional and proficient law enforcement 'use of force' team in Louisiana," said Landry in a statement.
The Department of Justice laid out its findings in a methodical manner, though no questions were allowed.
"They must have acted with specific intent," said Amundson, which he described as the highest standard of proof in criminal law. "It's not enough to show they acted recklessly ... or with bad judgement ... That's not a violation of federal civil rights laws."
Amundson said the entire altercation at the Triple S convenience store on North Foster Drive, "from approach to the six shots fired," took about 90 seconds.
Sterling's Aunt Sandra Sterling was inconsolable following her meeting with prosecutors, saying they told her the officer that shot her nephew six times, Blane Salamoni, pointed a gun to Sterling's head during the altercations and said he was going to kill him. The other officer was Howie Lake.
"So how do you think Alton felt," she said, weeping.
Amundson said two independent experts agreed the use of lethal force by the officers in the Sterling case was not unreasonable.
"Both experts criticized techniques, but determined (the officers') actions were not unreasonable," Amundson said, considering that Sterling had a .38-caliber revolver that was retrieved from his pocket following the shooting.
“There are no victories for anybody,” said Admundson. “A man has died. A father, a nephew has died. Our heart goes out to the family.”
The Department of Justice said that in order to prosecute the officer who fired the shots – Blane Salamoni – they would have to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Salamoni did not reasonably believe that Sterling, who was armed, was reaching for a weapon.
Officer Salamoni and Officer Howard Lake II were responding to a call at the Triple S convenience store that night of a man who had allegedly threatened someone with a weapon.
He emphasized that the entire time the officers and Sterling were on the ground lasted 27 seconds, meaning that decisions were made in a split-second manner.
‘We cannot establish that Mr. Sterling was not going for a gun, or more accurately that the officers did not believe he was reaching for a gun and therefore we can’t establish that the lethal force that was used was unreasonable.”
Please know that experienced, highly-trained federal agents and prosecutors worked hard to investigate and examine the facts to determine if a federal criminal case could be brought here. We have all concluded that no such case can be brought.”
Chris Stewart, an attorney for the family of Alton Sterling said that while they were not pleased with the outcome, they believe that the state has a “phenomenal” case.
“We’re not angry,” he said. “The actions of the officers that night were absolutely heinous.”
Stewart said that the members of the Justice Department that they met with told them that Officer Salamoni walked up to Alton Sterling and put a gun to his head and said, “I’m going to kill you bitch.” The Justice Department did not address those allegations at its press briefing.