Justice Department Declines To Prosecute Police Officers In Killing Of Alton Sterling

May 3, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The U.S. Justice Department will not prosecute two white police officers who killed a black man, Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge last July. Federal officials say they met today with the family of Alton Sterling to explain their decision, and out of that meeting came new disturbing details about what happened. Here's the family's attorney, Chris Stewart, explaining what they learned about one of the police officers, Blane Salamoni.

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CHRIS STEWART: We learned that Officer Salamoni walked up to Alton Sterling and put a gun to his head and said, I'll kill you, bitch.

MCEVERS: To talk about this, first we have NPR's Greg Allen in Baton Rouge. And Greg, what else did we learn today about this shooting?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, this is information, Kelly, that came from the federal investigators who spent 10 months looking at this, interviewing witnesses, analyzing six different videotapes including a tape that we've never seen before that's only been available to them. Looking at this - and it's a 71-second incident that they looked at. And as you say, we - they say they saw Officer Salamoni walk up, put a gun to Alton Sterling's head. When they responded, there was some suspicion that Alton Sterling had a gun. They were responding to a call - said there was a man outside a convenience store with a gun. So they were somewhat concerned about that.

There was a - they were trying to control him. They had trouble controlling him. That's when Salamoni put the gun to Sterling's head. They Tasered him. They got him on the ground. They Tasered him again. And when they're on the ground, that's when Blane Salamoni apparently said, he's going for his gun, and fired three shots into his chest. That we knew about.

What we learned also today is that then, when Alton Sterling started to get up - he tried to rise - Blane Salamoni, prosecutors say, fired three more shots into his back. And those are the ones they think killed him. So it's a lot more information that came out about this, and a lot of fingers point about the actions of that one officer, Blane Salamoni.

MCEVERS: Why isn't the Justice Department pressing charges?

ALLEN: Well, it gets down to that issue about what they were concerned about. There were concerned about their safety, and did they unreasonably use force to deprive him of his of his civil rights? And because Salamoni appeared to be concerned about his safety, they didn't - couldn't meet that standard, they said.

MCEVERS: What's the family saying about that?

ALLEN: Well, the family I don't think actually expected to get federal civil rights charges out of this because it's a very high standard. They knew that all along. They're really looking to the state here and state criminal charges 'cause they feel that the evidence here is pretty significantly in their favor - looking for charges against Blane Salamoni. So that's what they're expecting now. And of course there will be civil action brought as well, and so they're looking for that as well.

MCEVERS: How likely do you think that it is that the state will bring charges?

ALLEN: Well, this case goes to Jeff Landry, who's the attorney general here. He's now beginning his investigation. But he's getting all this information from the federal investigation which was, as we say - is extensive and has some pretty interesting information to look at.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Greg Allen in Baton Rouge. Thank you so much.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.