DOJ will not charge officers in shooting of Alton Sterling

The Department of Justice has decided not to bring charges against two Baton Rouge police officers involved in the shooting death of Alton Sterling. From the Associated Press:

The U.S. Justice Department has decided not to charge two white Baton Rouge police officers in the death of a black man whose fatal shooting was captured on cellphone video, fueling protests in Louisiana’s capital and beyond, The Associated Press has learned.

Federal authorities opened a civil rights investigation immediately after the July 2016 police shooting that killed 37-year-old Alton Sterling outside a convenience store where he was selling homemade CDs.

A person familiar with the decision disclosed it to the AP on Tuesday. The person was not authorized to talk publicly about the decision and spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity.

The NY Times points out that this decision might not be any different even if the Obama DOJ were still in charge because the bar for bringing federal civil rights charges is so high:

Even under Mr. Obama, officials saw challenges in bringing charges in Mr. Sterling’s death. The bar for charging police officers with federal civil rights violations is extremely high, and such prosecutions are rare. The Obama administration, which cultivated an aggressive reputation on such cases, declined to prosecute officers in several high-profile deaths, most notably the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014.

In the case of Michael Brown, an extensive investigation by the DOJ corroborated the account of the incident given by Officer Darren Wilson and disproved many of the claims that had provoked outrage nationwide, i.e. the hands up, don’t shoot myth. However, the Sterling shooting is different because two different video clips of the shooting exist.

Officers were called to the convenience store near midnight after a report that someone matching Sterling’s description had threatened a person with a gun. Officers said they used a taser on Sterling after he refused to put his hands on the hood of a car. Video shows one officer tackling him to the ground. Then both officers pin him down.

Another video taken by the owner of the store from just a few feet away shows Sterling already on the ground with two officers on top of him. One officer yells “He’s got a gun!” The other officer pulls his weapon and places it to Sterling’s chest and says, “If you f***ing move, I swear to God!” At this point, the camera pans away just as the sound of shots being fired is heard. A moment later more shots are fired and when the camera returns to Sterling he has been shot in the chest. Finally, the officer who is still on his feet reaches into Sterling’s pocket and removes something shiny. The eyewitness who shot the video claimed it was a gun.

Sterling’s death and the death of Philando Castile a day later led to nationwide protests. They also apparently inspired Micah Xavier Johnson to shoot 11 police officers in Dallas, five of whom later died. Just over a month later, a man named Gavin Long killed three police officers and wounded three more in Baton Rouge.

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David Strom 6:31 PM on October 05, 2022