BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (REUTERS) – Two white officers will not face federal charges in the fatal shooting of a black man in Louisiana that sparked nationwide protests last year, US officials said on Wednesday (May 3).
US Attorney Corey Amundson told a news conference investigators had concluded after an exhaustive 10-month review that there was “insufficient evidence” to charge the officers in the death of Alton Sterling, 37.
Sterling’s shooting in Baton Rouge, which was captured on video by bystanders, prompted widespread demonstrations in Louisiana’s capital city. It was one in a series of high-profile police killings of black men that inflamed debate over police treatment of minorities.
Members of Sterling’s family and their attorneys, angry after first learning in the media that the officers would not be charged, held a separate press conference to call on Louisiana Attorney-General Jeff Landry to pursue state criminal charges against the officers.
“Alton was human,” said Sandra Sterling, the victim’s aunt, her voice cracking. “He’s no longer here but his voice still will be heard, through us. So stay behind Alton. And we don’t want this to end. Remember his name.”
Landry said a state investigation into the actions of police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake would begin now that the federal probe was complete, adding that US investigators would turn over their evidence to the Louisiana State Police.
He warned that the review “could take a considerable amount of time” and asked for patience.
Wednesday’s events came a day after a white former South Carolina officer pleaded guilty in the 2015 shooting of an unarmed black man and a Texas officer was fired for shooting an unarmed 15-year-old boy on Saturday.
The rapid developments were likely to intensify scrutiny of how Republican President Donald Trump’s administration holds police accountable for racially charged killings.
Baton Rouge was preparing for possible protests on Wednesday. Three women were arrested at a protest on a city highway late on Tuesday night, though a vigil at the scene where Sterling was killed was peaceful.
Sterling was killed on July 5, 2016, outside a convenience store, after a resident called police to report he had been threatened by a black man wearing a red shirt and selling CDs.
The entire incident, from the time officers first ordered Sterling to place his hands on a car to the firing of the sixth and final shot, lasted less than 90 seconds, according to a detailed summary the Justice Department released on Wednesday.
The officers involved told investigators that Sterling was attempting to pull a loaded gun out of his pocket at the time Salamoni opened fire.
Various videos of the incident were inconclusive regarding Sterling’s gun, making it impossible to prove the officers’ account was untrue, the department said.
“The evidence simply cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt the position of Sterling’s right hand at the exact time of the shooting,” the department said in its statement.
The two officers are on paid administrative leave, and an internal affairs investigation by Baton Rouge police remains pending.