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Baton Rouge police release video showing fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, plan to fire one officer

The Baton Rouge Police Dept. released new footage of Alton Sterling’s death taken by the body cam of officer Howie Lake. The video contains graphic content. (Video: Baton Rouge Police Department)
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Police in Baton Rouge announced Friday night that they will fire Officer Blane Salamoni for violating department policies during the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in July 2016.

The announcement came three days after state prosecutors announced that Salamoni and Officer Howie Lake would not face criminal charges in the shooting, which came at a time of intense national scrutiny of police use of force and prompted massive local protests. Lake, the department announced Friday, will be suspended for three days.

Police Chief Murphy Paul said in a news conference Friday that Salamoni had violated the department’s “training and organizational” standards. Earlier this week, Salamoni’s attorney told The Washington Post that the officer was expecting to be fired and was preparing an appeal.

“Our police officers are held to a higher standard,” Paul said. “Fear cannot be a driver” for officers.

As it announced Salamoni’s firing, the department also released new, graphic videos of the confrontation that led to Sterling’s death, captured by the body camera Salamoni was wearing.

While the department had initially reported that the officer’s camera had fallen off and had not captured relevant video, one of the video clips released Friday shows Salamoni arriving on the scene and immediately shouting profanities at Sterling and threatening to shoot him in the head.

“What I did, sir?” Sterling responds at one point.

“Don’t move or I’ll shoot your f—ing ass, b—h!” Salamoni replies. “Put your f—ing hands on the car or I’m going to shoot your f—ing head!”

Sterling replies “All right” and tells officers that they are hurting his arm. The officers proceed to shock Sterling with a stun gun and tackle him before ultimately shooting him.

The release of the videos and announcement about the officers comes three days after Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the state would not pursue criminal charges against either officer. His decision, which followed the Justice Department’s announcement last year that it would not seek federal civil rights charges, drew criticism from activists and advocates.

Baton Rouge police officers won’t be charged in fatal shooting of Alton Sterling

Sterling’s death in July 2016 was captured in bystander-video footage that set off national outrage. In that recording, Sterling could be seen on the ground with two officers on top of him. One of them appeared to yell “He’s got a gun!” before shots rang out.

According to Landry’s office, Sterling was shot six times — three times in the chest and three times in his back. An autopsy deemed his death a homicide caused by multiple gunshot wounds.

Sterling was among 963 people fatally shot by police in 2016, according to The Post’s database tracking such incidents. His death, and the fatal shooting of Philando Castile, a Minnesota school cafeteria worker killed during a traffic stop, prompted protests in Baton Rouge and beyond. Those two incidents preceded ambush attacks that targeted police officers — five slain in Dallas after Castile’s death, followed by three killed in Baton Rouge — at a moment of high racial tension nationwide.

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul announced on March 30, 2018, the termination of officer Blane Salamoni and a 3-day suspension for officer Howie Lake. (Video: Reuters)

While bystander video helped draw widespread attention to Sterling’s death, it was not the only recording of what happened. Attorneys for Sterling’s family had said last year that they were told by federal investigators that Salamoni had told Sterling, “I’m going to kill you,” when he first drew his gun, a detail apparently drawn from the then-unreleased recording of the encounter.

Five key takeaways from the Justice Dept. investigation into Alton Sterling’s death

Landry said his office could begin investigating Sterling’s death only after the Justice Department decided not to seek federal charges. In explaining his decision Tuesday, Landry said the officers were attempting a lawful arrest “under probable cause,” assuming that Sterling was armed while resisting their attempts to arrest him.

Lake found a loaded .38-caliber handgun in Sterling’s right front pocket after the shooting, Landry’s office said.

Landry also said this week that toxicology reports showed Sterling had drugs in his system when he was killed, and the attorney general said it was “reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence and that contributed to his noncompliance.”

A report Landry’s office released Tuesday elaborating on his decision not to seek criminal charges mentioned video recordings that came from multiple other sources, including “security footage from the Triple S Store, along with the officers’ body cameras and police unit cameras, and the enhanced videos generated by the United States Department of Justice.”

Video footage was repeatedly cited by state and federal authorities in explaining their decisions not to pursue charges in the case.

The Justice Department, in announcing the end of the civil rights probe into Sterling’s death last year, said it examined footage from inside and outside the store, cellphone videos and the police recordings, and Landry’s office said it received “extensive video evidence” from federal officials.

“Multiple videos captured portions or the entirety of the officers’ interaction with Sterling,” the Justice Department said last year. “These include cell-phone videos, surveillance video from the store, and video from the officers’ body cameras and a police vehicle. FBI video forensic experts also provided enhancements of relevant videos for the portion of the struggle that immediately preceded the shooting.”

The report from Landry’s office repeatedly describes movements that appear to have been viewed on video recordings. The report also mentions physical actions seen on camera, stating, “Video evidence clearly shows Officer Salamoni making several attempts to gain control of Sterling’s right hand.”

The Justice Department, in its announcement last year, mentioned video footage that showed Sterling encountering the officers and at one point noted that “the location of Sterling’s right hand was not visible to the cameras.” At that time, the announcement said, Salamoni yelled that Sterling was “going for the gun” and began to fire at him.

Further reading:

Video footage shows Minn. traffic stop that ended with Philando Castile’s death