No federal charges against officers in Alton Sterling death

Posted at 4:00 PM, May 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-03 18:58:37-04

(CNN) — Ten months after Alton Sterling was killed by Baton Rouge police while pinned to the ground, the Department of Justice announced no federal charges will be filed against the two officers at the scene.

But that doesn’t mean officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II won’t face prosecution. Now that the federal investigation is over, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said Louisiana State Police will now investigate whether state criminal charges should be filed.

“I have assigned a prosecutor from the Louisiana Department of Justice to assist,” Landry said Wednesday.

Sterling, 37, was killed by police in Baton Rouge in July 2016. Cellphone video showed Sterling was pinned to the ground before he was shot, but police said he was reaching for a gun.

Outrage over Sterling’s death led to renewed “Black Lives Matter” protests. Both of the officers involved are white.

Justice department: Not enough evidence for federal charges

All federal prosecutors and agents involved in the investigation concluded there’s not enough evidence to seek federal charges against either officer.

“We would have go prove he (Sterling) wasn’t actually going for a gun, and that Salamoni just wanted to shoot him,” said Corey Amundson, acting US attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Several of Sterling’s relatives wept after the DOJ told the family no federal charges will be filed. But family attorney Chris Stewart said state charges are still possible.

“We’re not angry,” Stewart said. “We’re not gonna … let rage rule, because it’s not over.”

Shot on the ground

The killing gripped the nation because two bystander videos, each less than a minute long, captured Sterling’s struggle with the two officers, both of whom are white.

Sterling’s fatal encounter with police started when he was standing outside the convenience store where he frequently sold CDs and DVDs. Someone called 911 to report a man outside the store with a gun.

Video shows an officer rushing Sterling and pulling him to the ground. The other officer helps restrain Sterling. Someone shouts, “He’s got a gun!”

The convenience store owner said officers deployed a Taser twice.

Police eventually manage to pin Sterling to the ground, with one officer straddling him. In one video, an officer draws something from his waistband and points it at Sterling. As the camera turns away, more yelling ensues, followed by several loud bangs.

Afterward, the camera captures Sterling with a large bloodstain on his chest as an officer on the ground next to him keeps his gun pointed at Sterling.

As Sterling lies fatally wounded, the other officer removes something from Sterling’s right pocket. Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said Sterling was armed at the time, and a witness said the officer removed a gun from Sterling’s pocket.

In a search warrant affidavit, a detective wrote that officers saw the butt of a gun in Sterling’s pants pocket, and “the subject attempted to reach for the gun.”

But Sterling’s family said the father of five was minding his own business and did not deserve to die.

“Alton was out there selling CDs, trying to make a living,” family attorney Edmond Jordan said. “He was doing it with the permission of the store owner, so he wasn’t trespassing or anything like that. He wasn’t involved in any criminal conduct.”