Two white Baton Rouge police officers are under fire on social media this morning for shooting a black man with a gun in an incident partially caught on shaky handheld video.
According to The Advocate, police responded after an anonymous caller claimed that a large black man in a red shirt threatened him with a gun.
The suspect confronted by officers, Alton Sterling, would not comply with officers and the incident escalated into a shooting.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark said the initial results of an autopsy performed Tuesday show Sterling died due to a homicide and suffered multiple — meaning more than two — gunshot wounds to the chest and back.
A 48-second cellphone video captured by a bystander — which circulated at a protest about the shooting later in the day — shows an officer firing at least one round into a man’s chest outside what appears to be the Triple S store, followed by the sound of at least four more shots as the camera veers away.
“Get on the ground! Get on the ground!” an officer is heard yelling in the beginning of the clip.
Two officers are seen wrangling a heavy-set man in a red shirt against a silver sedan before pulling him to the ground on his back.
One officer is seen pulling the man’s left arm down while he pressed down on the man’s chest. The man’s right arm is not visible in the video.
“He’s got a gun! Gun,” an officer says, prompting the lawman closest to the camera to draw an object from his holster.
“You f*****g move, I swear to God,” says an officer, before the second officer, farther from the viewer, is seen pointing a weapon down at the man’s chest.
There’s a flash from that officer’s weapon, accompanied by the sound of shots.
“They shot him?” a man’s harried voice, close to the microphone, says in the video. “Yes!” a weeping woman replies.
Let’s go to the videotape.
The 48-second video—what we can see of it, that is—is very low quality, and shot from inside a vehicle by a person who can’t hold it steady and pulls it away twice in critical moments.
The encounter between Sterling and the officers is already underway by the time the video starts with Sterling standing in front a silver car and the two officers immediately backing away from him. One officer is seen drawing a taser from his belt and then the camera turns away.
You can hear the pop of a taser firing, and an officer yelling, “get on the ground!” as the distinctive crackle of the taser being discharged sounds. There is a second taser pop, and someone yells, “what the f*ck are you doing?”
Sterling continues to refuse to listen to officer commands, and the taser is clearly not having the desired effect when the camera finally returns to film the encounter instead of the floorboard of the car.
The officer closest to the camera operator (to Sterling’s left) then decides to take him down physically, and goes to tackle him.
They officer drives Sterling forward until they hit what appears to be a second car, gets a grip on the larger suspect, and spins him around and throws him down on the hood of the silver car before they fall to the ground. The tackling officer comes to rest on top of Sterling; the officer with the taser quickly moves in to try to secure Sterling’s left arm.
Sterling appears to be offering passive non-compliance to the officers during what we’ve seen of the encounter up until this point. He’s clearly refusing to listen to either officer, but he did not try to run away or throw punches. He clearly starts offering resistance, however when the officers attempted to gain control over his arms. The “taser” officer is clearly working very hard and having to use both arms to try to bring Sterling’s left arm under control.
Of very real importance is the fact that we can’t see Sterling’s right arm, due to a combination of the low-quality camera, shaky camerawork, and the camera angle/position of Sterling in relation to the front bumper, which he’s right up against and perhaps slighting under. The “tackle” officer can barely be seen as he seeks control of Sterling’s body and right arm.
Please keep in mind that officers tend to key on two things: overall suspect demeanor and their hands. Sterling is clearly non-compliant, his passive non-compliance is now turning into active resistance.
“Tackle” officer is still mostly obscured as he seeks to control Sterling’s right arm. “Taser” officer has managed to pin Sterling’s left arm under his knees. Sterling continues trying to raise his head and upper body as he resists. One of the officers, presumably, “Tackle,” yells, “He’s got a gun!”
“Taser,” who has Sterling’s left arm pinned under his knees, immediately grabs his gun as shown in the screen capture above. He then points the gun at Sterling’s chest in an awkward but reasonable effective retention position where he can fire the gun, but where Sterling can’t easily jostle or control it, as shown below.
One of the officers—it’s impossible to tell which—yells a warning. “Hey bra! You f*cking move, I swear to God.” It’s clearly a warning that the officers, who have their guns on Sterling, who is now known to be armed and actively resisting arrest, and are preparing to use them if he doesn’t immediately comply with officer commands.
Sterling does not obviously move at this moment,but we then hear the first shot fired and our cameraperson once again yanks the camera away.
There are more shots, then yelling inside the car from people who are incredulous that the just saw the shooting before the video ends.
A firearm was then recovered from Sterling’s body, who was dead at the scene.
* * *
Critics have been quick to label the Sterling shooting a “murder” by police officers.
It was pretty clearly nothing of the sort if you understand what that word means in either a broad moral sense or a much more refined and specific legal sense of first degree murder or second degree murder under Louisiana law. Based purely on the video alone, it’s also not possible to substantiate the lesser homicide charges of manslaughter or negligent homicide, either.
I’d also note that it’s very apparent that people are misconstruing the coroner’s imprecise notation that Sterling had wounds to the “chest and back.” It’s clearly evidence that Sterling could not have been shot in the back as he was laying on his back with two officers on top of him, attempting to pin him to the ground. The coroner is describing pass-throughs, where the officers fired bullets into Sterling’s chest that completely penetrated his body and exited his back, which is a relatively common event with duty ammunition.
Alton Sterling was the suspect in a “man with a gun” call who was first passively non-compliant and then was actively resisting officers when a firearm was located on his person and officers felt compelled to draw their weapons as he struggled with them.
You’re very unlikely to find any prosecutor or grand jury who is going to second-guess officers under these conditions.
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.
— Philippe Berry (@ptiberry) July 7, 2016
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.