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Baton Rouge prosecutor says he will recuse himself from investigation into Alton Sterling’s death

A makeshift memorial outside the Triple S Food Mart where Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge. (Jonathan Bachman/Reuters)

The district attorney in East Baton Rouge, La., said Monday that he will recuse himself from the investigation into the death of Alton Sterling, the man fatally shot by police last week outside a convenience store.

Hillar C. Moore III, the prosecutor, said in a report that he came to his decision to have another official oversee the case based on his relationship with the parents of one of the officers involved in the shooting, both veteran members of the Baton Rouge Police Department.

The Justice Department quickly moved last week to take over the investigation into the police officers involved in Sterling’s death, a decision that Moore had said he supported. Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said the two officers are Blane Salamoni, a four-year veteran from a prominent local law enforcement family, and Howie Lake, a three-year veteran of the department.

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After Moore announced his decision, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry released a statement saying that his office was prepared to act when the federal investigation is over, adding that state officials were told they will not be involved in the Justice Department’s probe.

“The Louisiana Department of Justice has been advised by the United States Attorney’s Office that we will not have access to the ongoing and extensive federal investigation being conducted in the Alton Sterling shooting until it is fully completed and a decision has been made on potential federal charges,” Landry said in the statement. “The Louisiana Department of Justice trusts the federal government will prepare a full, fair, and thorough investigation in this matter; and we look forward to fulfilling our responsibilities upon completion of the investigation and receipt of the complete investigative materials.”

Landry said that because the state would “not have full access to this investigation until the federal government’s actions are completed,” his office would not make further comments beyond saying that Louisiana officials “will be prepared to act in a timely, prudent, and judicious manner at the appropriate time.”

On Monday, Moore released a 10-page report outlining details of the case as well as the district attorney’s role in presenting murder cases to a grand jury for a determination about whether to seek or decline criminal charges.

“The only factor for the district attorney in reaching this [recusal] decision involves his relationship to the parents of officer Blane Salamoni,” Moore said.

He wrote that Salamoni’s parents have histories working with him while members of the Baton Rouge police force. In these roles — Salamoni’s mother as the violent crime and crime scene commander, Salamoni’s father commanding a special operations unit — both of them have worked with Moore for years. Moore added that he, his family and his staff have been given 24-hour security by Salamoni’s father before.

Outrage after video captures white Baton Rouge police officer fatally shooting a black man

While Moore said he has “no direct connection to either officer involved in this shooting,” he said that legal precedent requires him to look beyond any direct ties and to consider whether there may be any conscious unconscious factors that could impact an impartial trial.

“It is my determination as district attorney that given the history of a long and close working relationship with the parents of one of the officers involved in this shooting, there would always be questions of my partiality,” Moore said in his report. “I state explicitly that this decision does not change my office’s history of continuing to prosecute any local law enforcement officer responsible for violating our criminal laws. As we have always done, however, we will recuse ourselves when I have relationships that prevent me from handling the matter.”

Moore said that he was asking for an attorney from the state attorney general’s office or another prosecutor to take over the investigation into Sterling’s death.

Protesters are taking to the streets around the country after two black men were fatally shot by police within 48 hours of each other. (Video: Victoria Walker, Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

Further reading:

‘Graceful in the lion’s den’: Photo of young woman’s arrest in Baton Rouge becomes powerful symbol

Dallas police chief says ‘we’re asking cops to do too much in this country’

‘Murder, plain and simple’: Grief in Baton Rouge days after Alton Sterling shooting

A tough day in Baton Rouge: Prominent activist detained and confrontations with Black Panthers

Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson released after being held in Baton Rouge on a night of tension and protests

[This story has been updated with the Louisiana attorney general’s comments.]