Alton Bertrell Sterling

July 5, 2016

On July 5, 2016, Officer Blane Salamoni of the Baton Rouge (Louisiana) Police Department fatally shot and killed 37-year-old Alton Bertrell Sterling (1979–2016) at close range. Alton was selling CDs outside a convenience store (he was known locally as "CD Man"), when he showed his gun to a homeless man who had persistently approached him, even though he had asked the man several times to leave him alone. (Alton had only recently started carrying a gun in response to an earlier robbery of another CD vendor in the area.) The homeless man called 911. In response to the call, Officer Howie Lake II arrived first, followed by Salamoni. Body-cam footage shows that ten seconds after Salamoni arrived, he shouts at Alton, "Don't f***ing move or I'll shoot your f***ing a**. Put your f***ing hands on the car." Off camera, a voice shouts, "He's got a gun!" The officers wrestle Alton to the ground, and Salamoni shoots him six times in the chest and back. Witnesses reported that Alton never reached for his gun, but that the gun dropped from Alton during the altercation.

Protests within the days after the shooting resulted in more than 200 arrests. Former President Barack Obama spoke on this and other recent shootings, saying, “This is not just a black issue. It’s not just a Hispanic issue. This is an American issue that we should all care about. All fair-minded people should be concerned.” Although Alton had struggled with poverty and had previous run-ins with the law regarding drugs and weapons, the earlier incidents resulted in arrests, not in a shooting. 

In March 2018, the attorney general announced that charges would not be filed against the two white officers, although Salamoni was later fired for violating use-of-force policies, which, through settlement, resulted in his resignation. Earlier, in May 2017, after conducting a ten-month, comprehensive, and independent investigation of the events surrounding Alton's death, the U.S. Department of Justice likewise found insufficient evidence to support federal civil rights charges against the officers.

Alton left behind five children, the oldest of which was fifteen at the time of the shooting. A wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of Alton's five children in mid-2017, but the trial was postponed and delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020. On May 5, 2020, a new trial date of March 1, 2021, was set.

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