WARNING: The following video is graphic, and shows the last moments of a man’s life.
A second cell phone video has emerged to provide an alternate angle of the seconds before and after Alton Sterling was shot by Baton Rouge Police officers. The video was presumably captured by convenience store owner Abduallah Muflahi, who claimed to be just “two feet” (in actually, probably 10-15 feet away) when the struggle and shooting occurred.
The video’s new angle provides us with some tantalizing new clues, but no definitive answers.
To conclusively capture whether Sterling was attempting to reach for the gun in his right pocket, we would need to be able to to see Mr. Sterling’s right arm and in specific his hand.
Unfortunately, in the low-quality cell phone video from a car in the parking lot (screep cap below), most of Mr. Sterling’s torso, including his entire right side, is obscured by the front bumper of the silver car.
The new film’s perspective is about 90-degrees clockwise, but we then off the closest officer’s body obscuring much of Sterling’s torso, including his right arm and hand (below). Neither camera angle offers the “perfect world” view that would definitively answer whether or not the convicted felon was indeed reaching for a handgun in his pocket.
That is not to say that this second perspective into this tragic incident doesn’t offer us some new information if you know where to look.
Clear signs of a struggle
If you look to to the left of the nearest officer, you can see the legs of Sterling and the second officer. They are moving consistent with a struggle for position.
The head and shoulders of the more distant officer struggling to gain control of Alton Sterling’s right arm come into view as the closer officer shifts slightly. The more distant officer fighting for control of Sterling’s arm is shifting up up and down in a jerking motion as he attempts to gain control of Sterling’s arm.
Then there is what I consider to be a very significant moment.
After the officer struggling for control of Sterling’s right arm yells, ““He’s got a gun! Gun!” both officers then reach for their own weapons, and the officer closest to us draws his handgun to a retention position, barrel of the weapon pointed at Sterling’s chest. He then yells a warning to Sterling.
“You f*****g move, I swear to God!” He’s clearly communicating that he will open fire if Sterling doesn’t stop fighting. You’ll note that the more distant officer fighting for control of Sterling’s right hand is learned in close to Sterling, his head on the right of the closer officer.
But then after the warning, something happens.
And then it happens
The more distant officer on top of Sterling flies back momentarily as if pushed back several feet by Sterling, so that his head appears briefly to the left of the closer officer.
The first shots then take place.
Sterling then surges upward momentarily. We can’t tell if Sterling is pushing upward against the officer in an attempt to escape, or if the officer is attempting to pull away and Sterling is pulling on him at this point (below).
The officer on top of Sterling then seems to fall forward on him as the other officer backs away, and the startled person taking the video then jerks the camera away in what appears to be an attempt to steer clear of the melee.
He’s only a way for a second or two, but when he returns, the first officer has created some space and is out of frame, and the officer who was on Sterling fighting for control of his arm has rolled forward off of him, his gun still trained on the suspect, who is already profusely bleeding from shots to the upper left quadrant (above). There is nothing the officers or even a top -tier trauma unit could do to save Alton Sterling at this point. He’s taken what I’d surmise from the volume of blood pumping out of his chest to be a direct hit to the heart.
Sterling flails weakly, but both officers have to know that he’s seconds away from losing consciousness from blood loss. The officer who had been securing Sterling’s left arm then walks around his partner and reaches into Sterling’s right front pocket (below) to retrieve what we can only presume to be the object that the other officer thought was a gun.
Unfortunately, while the cell phone video clear captures that the officer did retrieve something from Alton Sterling’s pocket, I can’t pretend to be able to identify it due to the poor quality of the image (below). I’d further note that it’s entirely irrelevant, from a legal perspective, if the object turns out to be a gun, or a knife, or even a phone. If the officers reasonably believed it was a weapon, then they had to treat it as a weapon and take appropriate defensive actions, up to and including shooting Sterling with guns after two prior attempts to tase him (not captured on this video, but in the opening seconds of the other one) and going hands-on failed.
As this second tragic video comes to a close, we see visual confirmation that at least one of the officers had his body camera knocked lose during the struggle with Sterling. The cord is draped across his hip as he begins to pull himself up, the body camera itself dragging on the pavement behind him.
I feel a great deal of sympathy for the family Alton Sterling left behind. I cannot imagine why he would not obey the lawful commands of Baton Rogue Police officers. I do not why he struggled with them, and seemingly forced them to escalate from tasers, to going hands-on, and eventually putting them in a position where they felt he was reaching for a weapon, forcing them to open fire.
The Department of Justice will be leading an investigation into this shooting, which political activists and amoral ratings-hungry journalists are already trying to to spin. In the months ahead, when the investigation draws to a close, whether or not these officers committed a crime.
There are going to be witness statements to collect, versions of these videos enhanced and slowed for better clarity, and forensic evidence to examine.
Based upon what we now know, however, I would discount the credibility of anyone who dares assert that officers committed a crime in this incident based upon these two grainy videos. They do more to buttress the claims of the officers of a justified shooting than they do support the activist narrative of “murder.”
A second video of the incident has been uncovered, and journalist Phillippe Berry has uncovered a version of this film in 720 that strongly suggests that Alton Sterling’s right hand was not tied up in any way at all.
This unsecured right arm, potentially able to reach the weapon in his right front pocket, dramatically raises the threat to officers. This is looking more and more like a clean “good shoot” as more details emerge.