Alton Sterling family angry at reports of possible Justice Department decision
The family of Alton Sterling was angry after media reports surfaced indicating a decision had been made on whether to prosecute two Louisiana police officers in his death.
Sterling was outside a Baton Rouge convenience store on July 5 when officers responded to a report of a man with a gun outside the store. A bystander’s video shows the police pinning Sterling, a black man, to the ground before shooting him — leading to widespread criticism and renewed “Black Lives Matter” protests.
The Washington Post and The New York Times first reported Tuesday that multiple sources told them the US Justice Department, which led the investigation into the shooting, will close its investigation and not seek charges against the officers.
Family members said they had been told they would get news of the decision before it was publicized. CNN has not independently confirmed the media reports, which cited unnamed sources.
The Justice Department’s official statement Tuesday was there was no decision. Sterling family members, their attorneys, Louisiana’s governor and Baton Rouge’s mayor said they had received no word.
One of Sterling’s aunts said she, too, had not heard from federal authorities. But she was upset by the reports that said the officers would not be charged.
“It’s not right. Lord have Mercy. Oh my God,” Sandra Sterling told CNN.
Two attorneys for the Sterling family also told CNN on Tuesday evening they have not heard from the Justice Department on a decision in the case in which two white police officers were involved in the shooting while trying to detain Sterling.
Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told CNN the department has not communicated a decision to anyone. When there is a decision, the family will be notified first, and then the department will hold a news conference, she said.
The shootings set off protests across Baton Rouge and beyond and became an important chapter in the national discussion of how police interact with minorities. The officers — Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II — were placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting.
The mayor was upset by the reports, the first of which appeared in the Post.
“I am appalled that this news, whether true or false, has been disseminated without a formal decision being relayed to the Sterling family first. Also, no one in my office or the governor’s office has been notified by the US attorney’s office of a decision or timeline,” Mayor Sharon Weston Broome said.
A spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards said he also was unaware of any decision.
“The governor’s office has not been notified of a timeline or decision regarding the Alton Sterling investigation,” Richard Carbo said.
It is unclear whether the state will pursue charges. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry tweeted he will comment after an official Department of Justice announcement.
People gathered Tuesday outside the Triple S Food Mart, where Sterling was fatally shot, for a planned vigil.
Another of Alton Sterling’s aunts expressed her disappointment to the crowd.
“We need closure. We need a conviction; we need justice,” Vera Sterling said.
The killing gripped the nation because two bystander videos, each less than a minute long, captured the struggle with officers.
The first bystander video, filmed from inside a car, shows Sterling and Salamoni and Lake, who were answering a 911 report of a man with a gun, standing near a vehicle outside the convenience store.
The camera pans downward and a pop is heard. Someone yells, “Get on the ground!” Another pop, possibly from a Taser, rings out. The convenience store owner said officers twice deployed the devices before the shooting.
An officer rushes Sterling and pulls him to the ground. The other officer assists in restraining Sterling. Someone shouts, “He’s got a gun!”
An officer draws something from his waistband and points it at Sterling. More yelling ensues, followed by two loud bangs, then three more bangs.
The second video shows Sterling on the ground as one officer straddles him and another kneels to his left.
After the gunshots, the camera captures Sterling with a large bloodstain on his chest as an officer lying on the pavement aims his weapon.
As Sterling moves his left arm toward his face and then his chest, the other officer appears to remove 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.
A police incident report does not specify who shot Sterling.
The ‘CD Man’
Sterling was known as the “CD man,” a laid-back guy who sold CDs and DVDs in front of the convenience store on the west side of the city.
The father of five was respected in the community, said Edmond Jordan, the family attorney.
“Alton was out there selling CDs, trying to make a living,” 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.”
A day after Sterling’s death, police shot and killed Philando Castile, 32, in a Minnesota traffic stop streamed on Facebook Live. The Castile shooting upped the intensity of protests around the nation as well as the debates over police violence. An officer was charged with manslaughter in Castile’s death.
On July 7, in Dallas, a gunman ambushed officers, killing five and wounding seven others in the deadliest single incident for US law enforcement since September 11, 2001.
Baton Rouge, a city of 238,000 residents, re-entered the spotlight July 17 when an ex-Marine from Missouri ambushed and killed three law enforcement officers.
Col. Michael D. Edmonson of Louisiana State Police said at the time the killings were “chilling in the sheer brutality.”