Thirty-seven-year-old Alton Sterling was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police after being body-slammed to the ground and seemingly immobilized. Two cellphone videos captured the encounter.
Video footage begins with two police officers yelling at Sterling to get on the ground. One of them slams him to the ground, pinning Sterling on his back. One of the officers yells “He’s got a gun!” The officer pinning Sterling to the floor then takes out his pistol and places the nozzle on Sterling’s chest. Within seconds, at least one officer opened fire, even though Sterling looks completely pinned down and unable to move.
The officer who placed his gun on Sterling’s chest then rolls off and away from the now dying man as blood begins staining his shirt. One of the officers then pulls something– the video does not clearly identify what– out of Sterling’s right pants pocket. Sterling was pronounced dead shortly after.
Baton Rouge police officers Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake were responding to a at a convenience store early Tuesday morning after receiving an anonymous tip that a man in a red shirt selling CDs was waving a gun at people. Sterling, who sold CDs to earn extra money, was wearing a red shirt at the time.
Once the video was released, showing an apparently subdued Sterling being shot to death, outrage erupted. There has been no confirmation as of yet that the item removed from Sterling’s pocket was in fact a gun or not. The video does not make clear if the officer actually saw a gun or was in the process of patting Sterling down when he felt what he believed to be a gun. Whatever it was, though, it is important to note that it was still in his pocket when he was shot.
Abdullah Muflahi, owner of the shop where the incident took place, told the (Louisiana)Advocate that Sterling was armed but was not holding his gun and didn’t have his hand near his pocket at the time of the shooting. He said the officers were “aggressive” from the start.
“If Sterling’s gun had been found on the ground near his body after all the smoke cleared, the decision to fire might have some merit,” said Rev. Kevin Seraaj, publisher of the Orlando Advocate newspaper. “But in one of the videos, the officer can be seen removing Sterling’s gun from his pocket after he was shot and killed. That troubles me. If having a gun in your pocket is enough by itself to warrant being shot, every authorized concealed carry permit holder in the nation is also in trouble.”
If the item turns out to be a gun that was apparently concealed on Sterling’s person until removed from his pocket by the officer, police will need to explain how they knew Sterling was not in valid possession of the weapon. Louisiana’s concealed carry law requires any person with a permit to advise police he/she is carrying, and then to submit to a search and permit temporary confiscation of the weapon. So if Sterling was in valid possession of a weapon, shooting him for having it would seem to violate Louisiana law. If he was not in valid possession, it is unclear how police would have made that determination before killing him.
Warning: graphic footage of a police shooting:
Same encounter; different view.
Warning: extremely graphic footage of a police shooting:
Were the officers wearing body cameras? Yes, but both say the cameras were dislodged during the scuffle that preceded the shooting. Both are on paid ministrative leave.