Baton Rouge police released graphic new video Friday of the Alton Sterling shooting, including officer-worn body camera footage that offered a more complete account of the deadly encounter that ignited national protests two summers ago.
The recordings, at times grainy, show a disturbing struggle in which officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II sought to subdue Sterling outside the Triple S Food Mart. The officers had been responding to a complaint that a man matching Sterling’s description had brandished a weapon and pointed it a man.
Salamoni can be heard shouting profanities at Sterling from the moment he arrives, drawing his service weapon and threatening to shoot Sterling in the head if he failed to turn around place his hands on the hood of a vehicle. Sterling seems confused at times, asking, “What I did, sir?” and, seconds later, telling the officers they were hurting his arm.
“Don’t f****** move or I’ll shoot your f****** ass, bitch,” Salamoni screams. “Put your f****** hands on the car. Put your hands on the car or I’ll shoot you in your f****** head, you understand me? Don’t you f****** move, you hear me?
After the shooting, a breathless Salamoni curses at Sterling, repeatedly calling him a “stupid motherf*****” as he lay motionless outside the convenience store.
Police released the videos at 5 p.m. Friday, following the officers’ disciplinary hearing the day before.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The video below contains highly graphic footage and extreme language.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The video below contains highly graphic footage and extreme language recorded on the body camera worn by Lake while the shooting occurred. Can’t see video? Click here.
State and federal prosecutors reviewed the recordings before ruling out charges against both officers, but they declined to release the footage even after announcing they had insufficient evidence to bring a criminal case.
Before Friday, the only publicly available images of the shooting had been the cellphone videos that went viral on social media in the hours following the July 5, 2016, shooting. Those snippets prompted national demonstrations, including one in Dallas during which five police officers were fatally shot. Less than two weeks after Sterling’s death, a veteran from Kansas City traveled to Baton Rouge and killed three lawmen and wounded three others here.
Use-of-force experts hired by the U.S. Justice Department said they found Sterling’s shooting to be justified under the circumstances — including the officers’ belief that Sterling was reaching for his firearm as he resisted arrest. But the experts also found fault with the officers’ tactics, saying they could amount to policy violations.
W. Lloyd Grafton, a use of force expert in Ruston who reviewed the new videos for The Advocate on Friday, said Salamoni “escalated everything.”
“He’s saying things that would inflame anybody,” Grafton said. “At no time does (Sterling) strike, push or kick at anybody. He’s asking questions.”
Grafton said he understands why criminal charges weren’t brought, but added, “When I watch this video, I know we can do better.”
A second use of force expert Ken E. Williams, a former homicide detective in Massachusetts, said Salamoni’s language may sound disturbing but ulimately has little to no bearing on whether the shooting was justified. “The police perceived they had the right person stopped,” he said. “It’s unfortunate Mr. Sterling didn’t say to the officer, ‘Hey, I got a gun in my back pocket. That might have deescalated matters.
On the night of the shooting, Salamoni and Lake responded to an 911 call about a black man in a red T-shirt selling CDs who had threatened a man with a gun outside the convenience store on North Foster Drive. The caller, John Young, told dispatchers a man meeting Sterling’s description still had the weapon his pocket.
The ensuing encounter — from when Lake first arrived, followed shortly after by Salamoni, who fatally shot Sterling — lasted less than 90 seconds. Lake arrived first with Salamoni arriving just seconds later.
Lake walks up to Sterling and says, “Scuse me, man. Could you please put your hands on that car right quick?” Sterling doesn’t immediately comply, starts trying to walk toward the store and away from the car, and Lake puts his hand on Sterling’s chest and pushes him back toward the car. Sterling initially does put his hands on the hood of the car, but then the two start tussling and body cam falls off.”
“What’d I do?” Sterling asks.
That’s around the time Salamoni arrives — only about 30 seconds after Lake. His voice is first heard saying, “Don’t f****** move or I’ll shoot your f******.”
This is when Lake’s body camera falls off. One of the officers continues to yell, “don’t f******” as a struggle ensues for about 30 more secs. Then Sterling is tased. About 10 seconds later, he’s on the ground. Voice says, “Lemme search his pockets” and about five seconds later yells, “He’s got a gun.”
About two seconds later, the first shots are fired.
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