Authorities in the southern U.S. state of Louisiana on Tuesday cleared two white policemen of wrongdoing in the shooting death of a black man at close range after it was determined he was armed, as the officers said they had believed, as they struggled to arrest him.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said the facts surrounding the 2016 killing of Alton Sterling showed "beyond a reasonable doubt" that the police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, were justified in the way they handled the incident as it unfolded outside a Baton Rouge convenience store where Sterling was selling homemade CDs.
Landry said the police officers believed that the 37-year-old Sterling was armed as they tried, unsuccessfully, to pin him on a sidewalk to arrest him. The attorney general said the policemen "several times tried to get hold of his hands." At that point, a video of the incident shows Salamoni stepping back a short distance and firing three shots at Sterling and then three more into Sterling's back when he began to sit up and move. Lake did not fire his gun.
Federal authorities, who had previously cleared the two officers of willfully depriving Sterling of his civil rights and use of excessive force, concluded that moments before shooting him, Salamoni had yelled that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket. Landry said the "belief he was armed was subsequently verified."
The July 2016 incident occurred at a time of heightened tensions in the U.S. over deadly street confrontations in several cities between local police, most of them white, and black residents.In some instances, police have been charged with murder in the shootings and convicted, but in other cases have been cleared of wrongdoing.
In Baton Rouge, more than 200 people were arrested in demonstrations protesting the killing of Sterling.