A Louisiana district attorney who heard the statements made by Baton Rouge police department officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II regarding the shooting of illegally-armed armed felon Alton Sterling believes that the officers may have shot Sterling in lawful self-defense.
Federal investigators are examining the deadly encounter at the request of Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“We all learned lessons from what was done elsewhere in the country over the last several years and we’re trying to be as proactive as possible,” Edwards said.
The shooting happened early Tuesday morning when Baton Rouge police department officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II responded to a disturbance call involving Sterling, who was reportedly armed.
Sterling has a lengthy police record. Past charges include a felony drug offense and aggravated assault.
District Attorney Hillar Moore said Lake and Salamoni may have acted within their rights.
“This is potentially a state authorized killing,” Moore said. “It gives law enforcement officers the authority and mandates them to kill when in defense of themselves or others.”
Officers responded to a 911 call from a homeless man who claims that Sterling had threatened him with a gun. Instead of complying with lawful police commands, Sterling resisted arrest. Sterling first passively through non-compliance, then after two attempts to taser him had no discernable effect, he began physically resisting officers after officers tackled him and went “hands on.”
The struggle to subdue Sterling was compounded by the fact that when he was taken to the ground, his right arm and shoulder were under the front edge of a silver sedan. Officers were able to quickly pin his left arm, but as Sterling continued to resist arrest, they were unable to secure his right arm, as we noted in our previous breakdown of the shooting.
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.
I feel compelled to correct a major part of the media’s narrative about the shooting of Alton Sterling. More than a few major news outlets have incorrectly asserted that since Sterling had not withdrawn the weapon from his front pocket that he was not a threat, and that the officers were therefore in the wrong for shooting him.
That is patently false as a matter of legal fact.
Officers and regular citizens alike have the right to defend their lives. In circumstances like this one, they do not have to wait for an armed threat to successfully deploy a weapon before opening fire.
Alton Sterling’s gun was discovered. Officers immediately drew their weapons and told him to stop resisting. He responded by struggling even harder, and moved his hand down towards the location of the weapon.
As more details emerge, it is becoming apparent that the death of Alton Sterling was clearly not the “murder” of a subdued innocent man at the hands of overzealous police as the media have tried to claim. Emerging evidence suggests that it was in fact the shooting of an illegally-armed violent felon who had fought with police over weapons in a prior incident during a scuffle. He was not under the control of the officers, and violently fought officers even when they warned him that if he didn’t stop right and went for his gun that he would be shot.
The first two (and likely fatal) shots fired in this incident almost certainly appear to be justified based upon the camera footage we’ve been able to review so far, and it seems probable—based on the statement made by District Attorney Hillar Moore—that officers have been able to articulate that the following shots not captured on camera were justifiable as well.
The Department of Justice is investigating this shooting and will make the final determination on whether Sterling’s shooting was justified, but one thing is entirely clear: the media’s attempts to manufacture a narrative where an innocent man was “murdered” by police when he did nothing at all wrong is an abject and demonstrable lie.