Criminal investigation underway into Alton Sterling's death

A criminal investigation, led by the U.S. Department of Justice, is underway into the slaying by police of Alton Sterling, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Thursday.

White officers who killed black man had previously been cleared of 'use of force' complaints

A man holds a sign in front of a newly painted mural of Alton Sterling outside the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, La., where 37-year-old Sterling was shot and killed by police. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

A criminal investigation, led by the U.S. Department of Justice, is underway into the slaying by police of Alton Sterling, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said on Thursday. 

Earlier in the day, community leaders in Baton Rouge, La., on Thursday demanded a broad criminal investigation of two white police officers involved in the fatal shooting of a black man in Louisiana's capital in one of the mounting number of deadly encounters between U.S. law enforcement and black men.

Alton Sterling, 37, of Baton Rouge, died Tuesday of multiple gunshot wounds after an altercation with police outside a convenience store. (Facebook)
Representatives from the community organization Together Baton Rouge urged authorities to consider all possible federal and state criminal charges against officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake in the death of Alton Sterling, 37, on Tuesday.

The 300-pound Sterling was pinned to the ground and fatally shot in the chest outside a convenience store after the officers responded to what police said was a call about a black man reported to have made threats with a gun.

"We don't want this to be a narrow investigation," Edgar Cage, a spokesman for the group, said at a local church.

"We plan to use this tragic event as a tool, a stimulant to change the culture."

The U.S. Justice Department on Wednesday said it would conduct a civil rights investigation into Sterling's killing.

The city's mayor and police chief welcomed the move, but community leaders said they worried the probe would be too limited.

President Barack Obama said in a statement he had full confidence in the Justice Department's ability to conduct a "thoughtful, thorough and fair inquiry" into Sterling's death.

Criminal probe underway in Baton Rouge

The National

5 years ago
Shooting death of Alton Sterling by police ignites anger 2:21

Citing an unnamed law enforcement official, CNN reported on Thursday that a homeless man placed the 911 call after seeking money from Sterling, who was selling CDs outside the store.

Sterling showed the man his gun and said to leave him alone, the official told CNN. Reuters could not independently confirm that account with Baton Rouge police, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Sterling, a father of five, had several criminal convictions since the mid-1990s for battery, resisting arrest, burglary and other crimes. He was a registered sex offender after spending nearly four years in prison on a charge that he had sex with a 14-year-old girl when he was 20.     

Both officers involved in the shooting had two previous "use of force" complaints lodged against them, but were cleared of the allegations. 

Together Baton Rouge began its news conference with a prayer dedicated to Sterling and Philando Castile, a black man shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop on Wednesday near Minneapolis.

The shootings and videos showing their bloody aftermath have sparked protests, including an overnight rally in Baton Rouge that drew about 300 people who stood in a peaceful vigil near the Triple S Food Mart where Sterling was killed.

Caught on video

Video recorded on a cellphone by a bystander showed an officer confronting Sterling and ordering him to the ground. The two officers then tackled him to the pavement, with one pulling a gun from his holster and pointing it at Sterling's chest.

One officer shot Sterling five times at close range, and the other took something from his pants pocket as he was dying, another video recorded by Abdullah Muflahi, owner of the store where Sterling was killed in the parking lot, showed.

Raymond Gregory holds up crime scene tape while walking along the road outside the convenience store where Sterling was shot and killed. (Gerald Herbert/Associated Press)

Police said Sterling was armed. Muflahi said in an interview that police took a gun out of Sterling's pocket after shooting him.

A convicted felon, Sterling was not allowed to legally have a gun.

Officers Lake and Salamoni have been put on administrative leave, police said. In Lake's three years and Salamoni's four years on the force, both have been cleared by the police department after prior complaints against them regarding use of force, the Advocate newspaper reported, citing records.

The deaths of Sterling and Castile are the latest in a string of incidents in recent years involving police treatment of black men and boys in cities including Baltimore, Chicago, New York, Cleveland, Tulsa, Oklahoma and North Charleston, S.C. 

With files from The Associated Press