Justice Department will investigate police shooting of Alton Sterling, seen in graphic video
BATON ROUGE — The U.S. Justice Department will investigate the shooting of Alton Sterling, a Baton Rouge man whose shooting was caught on video. Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said his department has turned over the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.
There is police body camera footage of the shooting of Sterling — even though the cameras were dislodged — Baton Rouge Police Lt. Johnny Dunham told reporters on Wednesday.
“That footage may not be as good as we hoped for. During the altercation, the body cameras did become dislodged, but they did stay on and active and recording at this time,” Dunham said.
Dunham’s comments came as he, the city’s mayor and the city’s police chief spoke at a news conference about the case.
Chief Dabadie urged residents to be peaceful if they protest the death of Sterling, 37.
“We ask for your voluntary compliance to our laws and peaceful assembly with any gatherings that may be planned,” Dabadie said. “We encourage you to plan and protest … we don’t have any problems with that. We just ask you to do it peacefully, and that no one gets hurt.
“It is our goal and our mission to make sure that a thorough, just, transparent and independent investigation be conducted into this incident,” Dabadie said.
In response to calls for his resignation, Dabadie said he doesn’t plan on it.
“I don’t plan on resigning. We have done a lot of good in this community. We have worked very hard in this community. Do we have an issue right now? Yes. But we are working right now to bring the truth out,” Dabadie said.
He vowed authorities would conduct a transparent and independent investigation.
“Like you, there is a lot that we do not understand, and at this point, like you, I am demanding answers,” Dabadie said. “Like you all, my prayers are with this community, and especially with the family and loved ones of Mr. Sterling, and all the members of the Baton Rouge Police Department.”
WARNING: Video contains graphic images and profanity
Mayor Melvin “Kip” Holden defended his city’s response to Sterling’s death, noting that officials had been discussing the importance of conducting an independent investigation from the outset.
“It’s not like we need to be hand-held and spoon-fed when it comes to doing what’s right,” Holden said.
Holden described his city as an “inclusive community” with top-ranked police, fire and EMS services.
“We have a wound right now, but we’ll be healing, and making this city and parish whole again,” the mayor said.
The 48-second video appears to be cell phone footage recorded by a witness inside a nearby car.
It begins with the camera facing a car dashboard. A single pop is heard. Then someone yells, “Get on the ground.”
Another pop follows.
The camera then pans up to two officers confronting a man in a red shirt. The man is Sterling, according to his family’s attorney.
An officer pulls him over the hood of a silver car and pins him to the ground. Once he’s down, the officer begins to assist a second officer in restraining Sterling.
Seconds later, someone shouts, “He’s got a gun.”
An officer can be seen drawing something from his waist and pointing it at the man on the ground.
More yelling follows, though it’s hard to make out what’s being said. Then there are two more bangs.
The witnesses inside the car shout and swear. Three more bangs go off. A woman in the car starts crying.
The ‘CD man’
Sterling was known as the “CD man,” a laid-back guy who would sell tunes and DVDs outside the convenience store where he was shot, according to local media.
“Alton was a respected man. He was beloved in the community. He did not deserve the treatment and this excessive force that was exerted on him by the police department,” Jordan, his attorney, told CNN.
Now Sterling’s family is “grieving and mourning for an unnecessary loss of life,” the attorney said.
“Alton was out there selling CDs, trying to make a living. He was doing it with the permission of the store owner, so he wasn’t trespassing or anything like that. He wasn’t involved in any criminal conduct,” Jordan said.
Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S Food Mart, told CNN he’s known Sterling for six years.
Muflahi let him sell CDs in front of the store. He said Sterling never got into fights.
Muflahi said he saw the officers slam Sterling on a car.
“They told him not to move,” he said. “He was asking them what he did wrong.”
He said the officers then used a stun gun on Sterling at least once before shooting.
Both got on top of him, and one ordered him not to move.
The one closest to Sterling’s legs yelled “gun,” and the shots followed.
After the shooting, Muflahi said an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and pulled out a gun.
When it was over, Muflahi said he heard the officers talking on the scene, saying they had been called there due to a complaint that Sterling had pulled a gun on someone.
But Muflahi said he never saw a confrontation between Sterling and anyone. And he wasn’t aware of any incident about which someone would have called.
“Just five minutes before,” Muflahi said, “he walked into the store getting something to drink, joking around, (and we were) calling each other names.”
‘He was handled unjustly’
At a press conference Wednesday, the president of the NAACP’s branch in Baton Rouge called for the city’s police chief and mayor to resign in the wake of the shooting.
“We’re actually here today to speak to the culture of the Baton Rouge Police Department. This incident is only one incident in many,” Michael McClanahan told reporters. “What we’re going to do is root out the 1% of bad police officers that go around being the judge, the jury and executioner of innocent people, period, but more specifically, innocent black lives.”
The officers involved should be held accountable, McClanahan said.
“I’m calling on anybody in this city with any backbone to go and arrest those two officers,” he said. “If the system will work for anybody, let it work for them, too.”
Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of one of Sterling’s children, teared up as she discussed the shooting video. Her 15-year-old son stood beside her, sobbing.
“The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis. … As this video has been shared across the world, you will see with your own eyes how he was handled unjustly and killed without regard for the lives that he helped raise,” she said.
McMillon vowed to join fellow citizens of Baton Rouge in making sure those responsible are held accountable.
“I, for one, will not rest,” she said, “and will not allow ya’ll to sweep him in the dirt.”
Louisiana’s governor said he expressed his condolences Wednesday to Sterling’s family, speaking on the phone with his aunt.
He said officials agreed there should be an independent investigation.
“There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that this incident is going to be investigated impartially and thoroughly,” Edwards said.
Cause of death: ‘Multiple gunshot wounds’
A preliminary autopsy found Sterling’s cause of death was from “multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back,” East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner William “Beau” Clark told CNN on Wednesday.
He declined to provide additional details about how many gunshot wounds Sterling sustained.
A full autopsy will be completed over the next 60 to 90 days, Clark said, pending toxicology results.
The report then will be handed over to law enforcement, he said.
‘We ain’t running from this’
Protesters took to the streets in Baton Rouge near where Sterling was killed after news of his death spread.
Members of Sterling’s family were among them, Jordan told CNN.
“Pretty much everybody who knows him knows he’s a sweet person,” his sister, Mignon Chambers, told CNN affiliate WVLA-TV.
“It wasn’t right, and something needs to be done.”
The protests were largely peaceful, according to local media.
Some streets were shut down, a few individuals spoke and those on the scene mostly played music and chanted.
“We ain’t running from this,” one man could be heard telling the crowd. “We gonna pray first, but we gonna stand tonight. We gonna stand tomorrow. And we gonna stand as a community.”
CNN’s Steve Visser, Polo Sandoval, Chuck Johnston, Sheena Jones and Donie O’Sullivan contributed to this report.