BATON ROUGE, La. — Relatives of a black man killed by a white Baton Rouge police officer want Louisiana’s attorney general to let their attorneys see and hear unreleased video and audio recordings from the shooting investigation.
Attorney General Jeff Landry hasn’t responded to a letter lawyers for Alton Sterling’s family sent him last month requesting access to the evidence, one of the attorneys, L. Chris Stewart, said Thursday.
Stewart said allowing the family’s lawyers to review surveillance video and audio of Sterling’s encounter with two white officers in July 2016 won’t interfere with Landry’s investigation and could help the civil lawsuit they filed in June.
“We need to see how many different policies (the officer) violated,” Stewart said.
A spokeswoman for Landry’s office said she couldn’t comment because they’re still reviewing evidence to determine whether state criminal charges are warranted.
Officer Blane Salamoni shot Sterling six times during a struggle outside a convenience store where the 37-year-old black man was selling homemade CDs.
The Justice Department investigated and announced in May that it will not file federal criminal charges against Salamoni or Officer Howie Lake II, who also wrestled Sterling to the ground but didn’t fire his gun.
Two cellphone videos of the July 5, 2016, shooting quickly spread on social media, fueling nightly protests in Baton Rouge that led to nearly 200 arrests. The officers’ body cameras and store surveillance camera also recorded the encounter, but those videos have not been publicly released.
Lawyers for Sterling’s relatives said federal authorities told them that Salamoni pointed a gun at Sterling’s head and threatened to kill him before the struggle began. Stewart said the unreleased video and audio would help the family lawyers verify that account.
“In many cases family and their legal representatives are allowed to review footage in person while being investigated, yet this has not happened in the Sterling case,” the family lawyers wrote in their letter to Landry. “There is no legal basis to not allow a private review of the requested footage.”
Federal investigators found that Salamoni yelled that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket before shooting him three times, and then fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move. The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket.
Attorneys for Alton Sterling’s five children filed the wrongful death lawsuit in state court against the city of Baton Rouge, its police department and former police chief, and the two officers involved. They claim the shooting fits a pattern of racist behavior and excessive force, and resulted from poor training and inadequate police procedures.