Baton Rouge Officer Is Fired in Alton Sterling Case as Police Release New Videos

The video shows Officer Blane Salamoni repeatedly telling Mr. Sterling he is going to shoot him in the head. Moments later, Mr. Sterling is hit by a Taser and then fatally shot.

A police officer who fatally shot a black man in Baton Rouge, La., nearly two years ago was fired on Friday, and a fellow officer involved in the episode was suspended for three days. The disciplinary actions were the first serious consequences for the officers after both state and federal officials declined to bring criminal charges against them.

Blane Salamoni, the officer who was dismissed, fired six shots at the man, Alton B. Sterling, after responding to a call at a convenience store parking lot on July 5, 2016.

After announcing the disciplinary actions, the department released new raw footage of Mr. Sterling’s arrest and his killing moments later. Video taken from a police body camera shows Officer Salamoni repeatedly shouting profanities at Mr. Sterling; slamming him into a car; twice ordering the second officer, Howie Lake II, to use his Taser; and threatening to shoot Mr. Sterling with a gun pointed at his head.

“These actions were not minor deviations from policy,” Chief Murphy Paul of the Baton Rouge Police Department said. “And they contributed to the outcome that resulted in the death of another human being.”

The decision came after the Louisiana attorney general, Jeff Landry, said on Tuesday that the officers would not be charged with state-level crimes, and after the Justice Department declined last May to seek federal civil rights charges. The shooting is one of numerous high-profile fatal encounters between black men and the police in recent years, and prompted large protests in Baton Rouge and beyond.

Chief Paul said that Officer Salamoni had violated the department’s use-of-force rules and that Officer Lake had violated its policies on sustaining “command of temper.”

The chief spoke mostly in generalities about why the men were found to have violated the policies. “One officer attempted to use de-escalation and disengagement techniques consistent with policy and procedure and training,” he said. “And one officer did not follow the tactics, training, professionalism and organizational standards.”

He also said: “Fear cannot be a driver for an officer’s response to every incident. Unreasonable fear within an officer is dangerous.”

The closed-door administrative hearings took place on Thursday. Chief Paul noted that while Officer Lake answered all of the questions put to him at his hearing, Officer Salamoni, on the advice of his lawyer, chose not to answer questions.

The chief’s announcement was expected to bring a modicum of relief to activists and Mr. Sterling’s family members, who have grown increasingly frustrated after the state and federal decisions.

The decision also came amid tension and protests over another police shooting in Sacramento. Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man, was shot at more than 20 times by the police in his grandmother’s backyard on March 18. A private autopsy commissioned by Mr. Clark’s family and released Friday found that eight bullets had struck him and that his death took three to 10 minutes, raising questions about why he did not receive medical care more quickly.

Part of Mr. Sterling’s fatal encounter with the Baton Rouge officers was captured in a widely seen cellphone video, in which the officers can be seen holding down Mr. Sterling. At one point, someone can be heard saying, “He’s got a gun! Gun!”

The two officers were responding to a call that a man who fit Mr. Sterling’s description had been brandishing a gun.

One newly released video from the vantage of the convenience store shows Mr. Sterling standing by a folding table, where he appears to be doing business with two customers. Officer Lake approaches, and takes Mr. Sterling by the arm.

Footage from Mr. Salamoni’s video camera shows him approaching moments later.

The three men tussle as the officers try to bend Mr. Sterling over the hood of a car and as Officer Salamoni, using expletives, repeatedly threatens to shoot Mr. Sterling in the head. Officer Lake fires his Taser at Mr. Sterling, twice, and Officer Salamoni tackles him to the ground.

Gunshots ring out. As Mr. Sterling lies motionless on the parking lot, Officer Salamoni swears at him and searches his pockets, apparently for a firearm.

A state report later noted that Officer Lake had found a .38-caliber handgun in Mr. Sterling’s pocket after the shooting. The report also included the results of a toxicology test, which said Mr. Sterling’s blood had contained alcohol, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine and THC. The amount of methamphetamine, the report said, was associated with “abusers who exhibited violent and irrational behavior.”

Michael Adams, a lawyer for the Sterling family, said the videos showed that Mr. Sterling was lucid, and not “deranged” or “out of control.”

“He stayed relatively calm throughout this process,” he said. “And that’s a different story or depiction when you read the attorney general’s findings.”

Image
Credit...Josh Brasted/Getty Images

Another lawyer for the family, L. Chris Stewart, said that he was pleased to see Mr. Salamoni leave the force.

The two officers may now appeal their punishments to a civil service board, which will hold public proceedings and uphold, vacate or modify the punishments. The officers may then appeal that decision to a state district court.

Before the chief’s announcement on Friday, Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor of Baton Rouge, had said publicly that she would like to see Officer Salamoni fired and Officer Lake disciplined. Ms. Broome, who was elected in 2016, pledged during her campaign that she would replace the previous police chief, fulfilling that promise late last year with the announcement of Mr. Paul’s appointment.

Lawyers for the two officers are almost certain in the appeals process to seize on the mayor’s statements calling for the discipline of the officers, and argue that the punishments were a foregone conclusion, said Henry D.H. Olinde, a Baton Rouge lawyer with significant experience with civil service cases.

“The question’s going to be, did the mayor’s declaration in any way influence the decision of the police chief?” he said.

In an interview with a local TV station, John S. McLindon, Officer Salamoni’s lawyer, said he would vigorously pursue the appeal as “a matter of principle,” noting that his client did not expect to get his job on the force back.

“I think it’s unfair,” Mr. McLindon said. “He had to make some split-second decisions — several split-second decisions.”

A lawyer for Mr. Lake could not be reached for comment Friday night.

The new police chief, who is black, has a difficult political path to navigate in a racially and economically divided Southern city. He will have to both rally his police force to his side to support a reform agenda and gain the trust of residents who took to the streets in protest after Mr. Sterling’s death.

Chief Paul spoke at his news conference of a retaliatory act after the shooting, in which a man shot and killed two Baton Rouge police officers and a deputy sheriff. He spoke of all of the work that officers do that rarely garners international attention, and encouraged residents to file complaints if they felt they were mistreated by police.

He also urged them not to resist officers’ orders, and to treat the police with respect.

“Please stop resisting. Stop running,” he said. “When the police officer gives you direction, listen.”

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