A coroner in Louisiana said federal authorities ordered the autopsy report sealed for Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot and killed by white police officers last month outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark reported Tuesday that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Louisiana issued a federal court order prohibiting the release of the autopsy report for Alton Sterling as well as a second court order prohibiting the release of that court order.
“Now we’re in an unusual position of not being able to release these things,” Shane Evans, chief of investigations for the coroner’s office, said. He said since Clark took office in 2012, he has tried to provide transparency.
The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment, citing an ongoing investigation.
Police said Sterling, 37, was armed with a gun outside a Triple S Food Mart on July 5 when they tackled him to the ground.
“He’s got a gun!” someone yelled in cellphone video of the incident, which was reported on by The Washington Post. “Gun! Gun!”
The officers, whom authorities identified as four-year veteran Blane Salamoni and three-year veteran Howie Lake, drew their guns. The officers shouted something unintelligible, which seemed to include the phrase “going for the gun” — and then two loud pops that sounded like gunshots immediately rang out.
“Oh, s—,” someone said.
Three more pops.
“They shot him?”
“Oh, my f—ing goodness.”
Abdullah Muflahi, who owns the convenience store, said at the time that he did not see a gun on Sterling during the struggle but he did see officers pull one from his pocket after the incident, according to CBS-affiliate WAFB.
Sterling’s death came at a moment of nationwide tension over fatal police shootings of black men and boys. The following night, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old school cafeteria manager, was killed in Falcon Heights, Minn.
The incidents ignited outcries and prompted peaceful protests. Within days, a demonstration in Dallas was marred by violence when a gunman opened fire on law enforcement officers, killing five and wounding others.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) called on the U.S. attorney’s office and the Department of Justice to investigate Sterling’s death.
Last month, Clark, the coroner, said Sterling’s autopsy showed that he died from numerous gunshot wounds but provided no further details, according to the Associated Press. He told the news agency that he signed the report Monday but is prohibited from releasing it.
Both Clark and Evans, his chief of investigations, said this is the first time since they have been with the coroner’s office that federal authorities have used a court order to seal an autopsy report.