NEW ORLEANS -- Even though federal authorities declined to prosecute two Baton Rouge police officers in the shooting death of Alton Sterling, the case against Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II is far from over.
Video evidence showed Salamoni shoot Sterling six times after a brief struggle in the parking lot of the Triple S convenience store in north Baton Rouge on July 5, 2016.
Attorneys for the Sterling family said they are troubled by Salamoni's actions before the shooting, and they discussed their concerns with the FBI and Justice Department during a meeting Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Baton Rouge.
“That officer, his first action, his first seconds on the scene, involved un-holstering his gun and putting it to the head of Alton Sterling," said Jason Williams, an attorney for the Sterling family. "I'm very uncomfortable with (the officer) placing a gun and telling a citizen, suspect, perpetrator … that ‘I'm going to f'ing kill you.’”
Corey Amundson, acting attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, said lethal-force experts determined the officers acted in a reasonable manner confronting an armed suspect.
“At first, they directed Mr. Sterling to put his hands on the hood of the car. When he did not comply, the officers placed their hands on Mr. Sterling, who struggled with and resisted officers," Amundson said Wednesday during a press briefing. “Officer Salamoni then pulled a gun and pointed it at Mr. Sterling's head.
“Immediately after the shooting, video shows Officer Lake go directly to Mr. Sterling's right pocket and retrieve a .38-caliber revolver, which was loaded,” Amundson added.
Williams, who in addition to his role as a criminal-defense attorney sits on the New Orleans City Council, said Salamoni's actions were reckless and illegal.
“It's fairly clear that that officer was the one who was escalating that situation, and the U.S. Attorney talked about the use of force sort of cycling up and down,” Williams said. “I think it was cycling up and down based upon that police officer's mental state and intent."
Amundson admitted that the lethal-force experts did criticize certain aspects of the officers’ techniques and approach.
“Being reckless, escalating a situation that may have been de-escalated -- those things are not a basis under the law for a federal, criminal (or) civil rights prosecution,” Amundson said.
“That's not a technique in any police department,” Williams said. “That is offensive in any police department. It is poor protocol. It is poor training and it is illegal.”
Sterling family attorneys maintain Salamoni's actions may be the basis for state charges, including malfeasance, negligent homicide and even second-degree murder.
Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has said it will launch its own investigation into the fatal 90-second confrontation.
Salamoni's attorney John McLindon said he believes the state investigation won't find any wrongdoing on the part of the officers.
“I know that Jeff Landry's Office (is) going to do a thorough investigation, too,” McLindon said. “I think in the end, the results going to be the same.”
There is no timetable for the state investigation into the Sterling shooting.