Baton Rouge cops won't face federal charges, S.C. cop pleaded guilty
Posted: May 03 2017 09:37AM EDT
Video Posted: May 03 2017 10:02AM EDT
Updated: May 03 2017 11:14AM EDT
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - The Justice Department's decision not to charge two white Baton Rouge police officers in the shooting death of a black man may not be the final legal chapter in a case that reverberated far beyond Louisiana's capital.
The department's decision doesn't preclude state authorities from conducting their own investigation of Alton Sterling's fatal shooting last summer and pursuing their own criminal charges in the case.
A person familiar with the Justice Department's decision disclosed it to The Associated Press on Tuesday. The person was not authorized to talk publicly about the decision and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.
Dozens of people gathered Tuesday evening outside the Baton Rouge convenience store where Sterling was shot and killed during a struggle with the two officers on July 5, 2016. At the vigil, residents and community activists held hands and prayed before urging state authorities to step in and take action.
Some called for Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry's office to investigate. Mya Richardson, an 18-year-old activist, read out Landry's Twitter handle and office phone number over a microphone and urged the crowd to "show him how angry you are."
Raheejah Flowers, 16, fought back tears as she told the crowd that "this is not the end."
"We are not going to take this sitting down," she said. "Alton did not die here for us to suck it up and move on!"
Police arrested nearly 200 protesters in Baton Rouge in July following Sterling's death, which occurred a day before another black man was killed by police in Minnesota.
Racial tensions in Baton Rouge were simmering when a black military veteran from Missouri ambushed and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers and wounded three others before being shot dead on July 17. The city was still reeling from the shootings when August floodwaters damaged or destroyed tens of thousands of homes in the area.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards immediately asked for a federal investigation of Sterling's death. He called cellphone video of the incident "disturbing, to say the least."
No public announcement has been made by the Justice Department as of late Tuesday, and many officials in Baton Rouge said they haven't been notified.
"The Governor's Office has not been notified of a timeline or decision regarding the Alton Sterling investigation. We have been in constant contact with the U.S. Attorney's Office and were assured that both our office and the Sterling family would be given advance notice," said Richard Carbo, a spokesman for Edwards.
A district attorney's recusal left Landry to decide whether to have his own office review evidence for possible state charges or to appoint another district attorney to the case. A spokesman for Landry said Tuesday that their office would not comment until after an official Justice Department announcement.
Landry has said he wouldn't have access to the federal investigation on Sterling's shooting until it was completed. Landry said in a July 11 statement that his office trusts the federal government to investigate the case and looks forward to "fulfilling our responsibilities" after getting the results of the federal investigation.
Sterling, 37, was selling homemade CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart before his deadly confrontation with police. Two cellphone videos of Sterling's struggle with the two officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, quickly spread on social media after the shooting.
A police report says Sterling was initially jolted with a stun gun after he didn't comply with the officers' commands to put his hands on the hood of a car. The report also says the officers saw the butt of a gun in one of Sterling's pants pockets and saw him try to reach for it before he was shot.
The videos show Sterling scuffling with Salamoni and Lake after they responded to a caller's complaint that Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun outside the convenience store. The two officers had Sterling pinned on his back when gunfire erupted, moments after someone yelled, "He's got a gun!"
One of Alton's aunts, Veda Sterling, spoke at Tuesday's vigil and led the crowd in chants of "No justice, no peace!"
"It's been almost a year and we're still suffering like it happened yesterday," she said. "We need closure. We need a conviction. We need justice."
John McLindon, Salamoni's attorney, said he can't comment until he reads an official report from the Justice Department. An attorney for Lake did not return a call seeking comment.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for some of Sterling's relatives, has said the family wanted an indictment.
Bamberg also represents relatives of Walter Scott, an unarmed black man who was running from a traffic stop in Charleston, South Carolina, when a white police officer shot and killed him in 2015. The former officer, 35-year-old Michael Slager, pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges Tuesday, five months after a jury deadlocked on state murder charges against him.
Tuesday's decision in the Sterling case was the highest profile decision not to bring charges against police officers in a deadly shooting since Jeff Sessions became attorney general. But the federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the officers was seen as problematic. Authorities in such cases must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated prosecutions in past police shootings.
Sessions has said his Justice Department is committed to holding individual officers accountable when they break the law. But he also believes too much federal scrutiny of police departments can diminish officers' effectiveness and hurt morale, and has ordered a sweeping review of federal consent decrees that force cities to agree to major policing overhauls.
The Baton Rouge police chief has said Sterling was armed. The store's owner has said Sterling wasn't holding a gun during the shooting but he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterward.
As a convicted felon, Sterling couldn't legally carry a gun. Court records show Sterling had pleaded guilty in 2011 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and illegally carrying a weapon and was arrested in May 2009 after an officer confronted him outside another store where he was selling CDs.
Police said they have dashcam and bodycam video and store surveillance footage of the shooting; none has been released.
Both officers remain on administrative leave, a standard procedure.
Here is an update on some other high-profile killings by police:
This black 15-year-old was fatally shot Saturday by a suburban Dallas police officer while a passenger in a car that was moving away, not in reverse toward officers. Balch Springs Police Chief Jonathan Haber said Monday that police video contradicts his department's original statement about the high school freshman's killing by officers investigating an underage drinking complaint at a house party Edwards was leaving. The officer, identified as Roy Oliver, was fired on Tuesday for violating department policies in Edwards' death. The race of the fired officer was not revealed.
Tulsa, Oklahoma, police Officer Betty Jo Shelby's manslaughter trial begins Monday in the shooting of Crutcher, an unarmed man. Shelby, who is white, shot the 40-year-old man on Sept. 16, shortly after she arrived on a street to find Crutcher's SUV stopped in the middle of the road. Crutcher was seen without a weapon and with his hands up on videos from a patrol car dashboard and a police helicopter before Shelby shot him. Police Chief Chuck Jordan has said Crutcher did not have a gun on his body nor in his SUV. Shelby has pleaded not guilty.
Castile was shot and killed July 6 by officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is Hispanic, after being pulled over as he drove through a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, with his girlfriend and her young daughter in the car. Livestreaming on Facebook moments later, his girlfriend said Castile, 32, was shot while reaching for his ID after telling the officer he had a gun permit and was armed. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi concluded that Yanez wasn't justified in using deadly force. Yanez is charged with manslaughter and is free ahead of his trial scheduled to start later this month.
Chicago police officer Dante Servin resigned in May 2016 after the police superintendent said he should be fired for killing an unarmed black woman four years earlier. Servin was off-duty when he shot 22-year-old Rekia Boyd. She had been walking down a street with her friends when he told them to be quiet, and he fired when he thought he saw a gun. Prosecutors charged Servin with involuntary manslaughter, a judge acquitted him in April 2016, saying he'd been improperly charged. The city settled a wrongful-death lawsuit in 2013 with Boyd's family for $4.5 million.
The 43-year-old black man died in July 2014 in New York City after a white officer placed him in a chokehold during an arrest for selling loose cigarettes. A grand jury declined to indict that officer, nor any others involved in the arrest. The city agreed to pay a $6 million civil settlement.
The 18-year-old black man was fatally shot by a white officer, Darren Wilson, in August 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. A grand jury declined to indict Wilson, and the U.S. Justice Department opted against civil rights charges. Wilson later resigned. The death of Brown, who was unarmed, led to months of occasionally violent protests and became a catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement, which rebukes police treatment of minorities.
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder in November 2015, on the same day that the city, under a judge's orders, released dashcam video showing McDonald, a 17-year-old black man, being shot 16 times on Oct. 20, 2014. Van Dyke, who is white, has pleaded not guilty. The video prompted local and federal investigations; The Justice Department determined in January that Chicago police have a long history of civil rights violations and excessive force.
Rookie New York City police officer Peter Liang was convicted of manslaughter last year in the November 2014 death of 28-year-old Gurley. Liang, an American of Chinese descent, said he was patrolling a public housing high-rise with his gun drawn when a sound startled him and he fired accidentally. A bullet ricocheted off a wall, hitting Gurley. A judge reduced the conviction to negligent homicide and sentenced Liang to five years' probation and 800 hours of community service. The city settled with Gurley's family for $4.1 million.
Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was fatally shot by a white Cleveland police officer near a gazebo in a recreational area in November 2014. Officers were responding to a report of a man waving a gun. The boy had a pellet gun tucked in his waistband and was shot right after their cruiser skidded to a stop, just feet away. A grand jury in December 2015 declined to indict patrolman Timothy Loehmann, who fired the fatal shot, and training officer Frank Garmback. The city settled his family's lawsuit for $6 million. The officers still could be disciplined or fired by the department.
The 25-year-old man was shackled but alive when he was put in Baltimore police van in April 2015. He came out with severe neck injuries, and his subsequent death led to rioting. Six officers were charged initially, but prosecutors in July dropped all remaining charges after acquittals and a hung jury. Gray's family agreed to a $6.4 million settlement with the city in September 2015.
Former Tulsa County volunteer sheriff's deputy Robert Bates, 74, was sentenced in June to four years in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the April 2015 death of Harris, 44, a black man who was unarmed and restrained. Bates, who is white, has said he confused his stun gun with his handgun. That shooting led to the temporary suspension of the reserve deputy program after a report found poor training of the volunteer officers, a lack of oversight, and cronyism. Bates is appealing his conviction.
WILLIAM CHAPMAN II
Former Portsmouth, Virginia, Police Officer Stephen Rankin was sentenced in October to 2 1/2 years in prison for fatally shooting this unarmed 18-year-old while responding to a shoplifting call outside a Wal-Mart on April 22, 2015. Prosecutors allege Rankin killed Chapman "willfully, deliberately and with premeditation." Chapman's body was reportedly delivered to the medical examiner with handcuffs still bound behind his back. Some witnesses said Chapman was combative, and one said he knocked away Rankin's stun gun. Rankin, who is white, was fired.
Prosecutors plan to retry former University of Cincinnati police officer Ray Tensing this month in the killing of an unarmed black motorist during a traffic stop near the campus in July 2015. The jury deadlocked after his first murder trial. He faces 15 years to life if convicted. Tensing's body camera captured much of the encounter, although the two sides dispute what conclusions can be reached. Tensing's attorney says DuBose was using his car as a deadly weapon. The university fired Tensing, restructured its public safety department and reached a $5.3 million settlement that includes free undergraduate tuition for DuBose's 13 children.
McDole, 28, was sitting in his wheelchair when he was shot and killed in September 2015 in Wilmington, Delaware, after police received a 911 call about a man with a gun. A bystander's cellphone footage showed officers repeatedly telling McDole to drop his weapon and raise his hands, with McDole reaching for his waist area before shots erupted. The Delaware attorney general's office decided against criminal charges against four Wilmington police officers involved, although investigators concluded one officer showed "extraordinarily poor" police work. In January, a federal judge approved the city's $1.5 million settlement with McDole's family.
Former Columbus, Mississippi, police officer Canyon Boykin, who is white, was indicted in September for manslaughter in the shooting death of Ball, 26. Boykin said he fired because Ball appeared to point a gun at him during a foot chase in October 2015. The city fired Boykin, saying the officer violated policy by not turning on his body camera, by inviting his fiancee to ride with him and by making derogatory social media posts about African-Americans, women and disabled people. Boykin has sued the city, claiming violations of his constitutional rights. Ball's family has sued Boykin, the city and other police officials for wrongful death.
The November 2015 shooting death of 24-year-old Clark sparked weeks of protests in Minneapolis. The officers, Mark Ringgenberg and Dustin Schwarze, were trying to arrest Clark when he was shot once in the head. He died a day later. Some witnesses said Clark was handcuffed when he was shot, but federal and state probes concluded that he was not. Investigators said Ringgenberg felt Clark's hand trying to grab his weapon and shouted to Schwarze, who then shot Clark. Prosecutors decided not to charge either white officer, and an internal police investigation cleared them.
KEITH LAMONT SCOTT
A prosecutor cleared a black Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in the fatal shooting of Scott, 43, who was killed while sitting in his vehicle in the parking lot of his Charlotte apartment complex as officers sought another man. A police review board decided last month that Officer Brentley Vinson followed proper procedure. Police video showed officers shouting for Scott to drop a gun numerous times as he slowly backed out of an SUV. Scott's family said he did not have a gun and was reading a book. Charlotte-Mecklenburg District Attorney Andrew Murray cited evidence that Scott was armed, including a store's surveillance video, DNA recovered from a handgun and a Facebook conversation from the man who said he sold the stolen gun to Scott.