Family of Alton Sterling, the black victim of a fatal police shooting at Louisiana convenience store, settles lawsuit against Baton Rouge for $4.5 million

The convenience store where Alton Sterling died

 

The family of a black Louisiana man has settled a police-shooting lawsuit against Baton Rouge for $4.5 million. The settlement in the death of Alton Sterling comes about two weeks after news broke about the death of another black man, Ronald Greene, at the hands of the Louisiana State Police, in a case where evidence apparently was covered up for roughly two years. Video suggests Greene was beaten, choked, and tortured at the end of a high-speed chase over an alleged traffic violation. News of the two cases, coming so close together -- in the same locale -- indicates America's policing problem is as intractable as ever, especially in regards to victims of color.

Alton Sterling was fatally shot while he was selling CDs outside a convenience store in 2016. From a report at NBC News:

The family of a Black man who was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, announced Friday it has settled a lawsuit against the city for $4.5 million.

Alton Sterling was 37 when he was fatally shot by an officer in 2016. His family filed the suit the next year.

Lawyers for Sterling's relatives said that the settlement would benefit his five children and involve "significant policy changes" for Baton Rouge officers.

"Our hope is that these policy changes, which focus on de-escalation, providing verbal warnings prior to using deadly force and will create a better future going forward for Baton Rouge residents," the lawyers said in a statement.

Sharon Weston Broome, the mayor-president of the city, echoed those remarks, saying in a statement, "As a community, we must work together to implement changes in policy and in our community to ensure that no other families in Baton Rouge will endure this loss, trauma, or heartbreak."

The Baton Rouge Union of Police did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

Officer Blane Salamoni was fired and Officer Howie Lake II was suspended in the death.

How could a seemingly innocent incident end in a death? NBC News reports:

Early on July 5, 2016, someone called 911 and reported that a man in a red shirt outside a convenience store had a gun and was acting in a threatening manner, authorities said. Sterling, wearing red, was selling CDs.

Surveillance footage shows Sterling pushing back against the two officers when they appear and attempt to pin him against a car. Lake attempts to shock Sterling with a Taser gun to no avail, and Salamoni then tackles Sterling to the ground.

Salamoni can be heard on the body cam audio yelling profanities at Sterling and then threatening to shoot him in the head.

Sterling appears slightly confused and says, "What I did, sir?"

The shooting occurs shortly thereafter.

 Video provides some clues about the cops' mindset on the matter:

After Sterling is apparently dead, Salamoni can be heard panting, and his hands are seen holding his handgun. He begins going through Sterling's pockets and calls him a "stupid motherf-----" twice.

The U.S. Justice Department and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry declined to pursue charges against the two officers.

Authorities later said Sterling had a pistol in his right pocket and unspecified drugs in his system.

The Washington Post has additional details

Sterling, 37, was shot and killed in July 2016 outside a convenience store where he was selling CDs. Two officers responded to a call about a man threatening someone with a gun and, according to video from the scene, immediately shouted profanities at Sterling while threatening to open fire on him. Although Sterling did have a gun — a loaded .38-caliber handgun found in his right pocket — it was unclear whether he was reaching for it when officers tackled and shot him. (See video at the end of this post.)

Neither of the officers were criminally charged. Blane Salamoni, the officer who fired the shots, was fired from the department in 2018 but, after appealing the decision, was allowed to resign retroactively without compensation or back pay. The other officer, Howie Lake II, was suspended for three days after police officials said he violated the department’s “command of temper” policy.

Sterling’s death was one of several high-profile incidents of police violence that set off a wave of racial justice protests during the summer of 2016 and prompted widespread cries for greater accountability from law enforcement. Hundreds of people were arrested during demonstrations in Baton Rouge. A mural of Sterling was painted at the Triple S Food Mart where he was killed.

In the wake of the fatal shooting, city officials rewrote the police department’s use-of-force guidelines to encourage officers to de-escalate situations when possible and give warnings before using deadly force. The updated guidelines also banned chokeholds and firing into vehicles unless there is an imminent threat.