Attorneys for the Alton Sterling family filed a subpoena Tuesday with the state Attorney General's Office asking that they turn over documents and videos pertaining to the July 2016 officer shooting of the 37-year-old black man, in hopes of moving forward the now-18-month old case.
Attorney Brandon DeCuir, one of the attorneys representing the Sterling family, said the family wants to review the footage and information gathered from the July 5, 2016, fatal shooting to advance their civil lawsuit. DeCuir said he believes that both cases could move forward simultaneously — the Attorney General's criminal investigation into the Sterling shooting and the family's civil case.
"We're going to continue to press forward and see if we can find some information," DeCuir said. "I'm not trying to get in (Attorney General Jeff Landry's) way, I'm just trying to get information to proceed with my civil suit."
However, legal experts doubt whether the state Attorney General's Office will turn over any of the requested material — which included nearly all of the investigative files in the case.
"I have pretty good confidence the attorney general is not going to turn over any documents," said Michael Walsh, a Baton-Rouge based criminal and civil attorney. "(Most likely) the office of the Attorney General of Louisiana is going to file a motion to quash the subpoena."
The children of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was fatally shot by a white Baton Rouge police officer just under a year ago, alle…
Sterling was shot outside a convenience store on North Foster Drive after an encounter with two white Baton Rouge police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II. The case was first considered for almost 10 months by the U.S. Department of Justice, but after declining to file criminal civil rights charges, the investigation was turned over to the state Attorney General's Office in May.
In the civil case, which was first filed in June, Walsh said he expects the state's Attorney General to file a motion to quash, or to invalidate, the subpoena based on the state's ongoing criminal investigation, a valid reason under Louisiana statute. While a civil and criminal case can go on simultaneously in theory, LSU Law Professor Ray Lamonica said it rarely happens.
Lamonica said if the state Attorney General's Office decides to go further than the motion to quash — which he also said is a likely move — state prosecutors could also ask to halt the civil proceedings entirely until their criminal case has been completed. He said the state Attorney General's Office would need to prove the civil proceedings are interfering with its criminal proceedings. A state district judge could halt the civil case until the criminal case is completed.
According to the subpoena, the Attorney General's Office has until Jan. 29 to produce the requested documents.
DeCuir, who represents Sterling's five children, said his team has yet to hear anything more from the Attorney General's Office since May, and DeCuir's clients — and much of the community — are tired of waiting.
"We still are being respectful with the Attorney General and any criminal charges, but we're civil lawyers," DeCuir said. "If (Landry) is going to be further delayed because of the volumes of information … we're not trying to stop him."
DeCuir said he believes looking at the documents at the same time would expedite the entire process.
Baton Rouge state Rep. Ted James, a Democrat, sent a tweet in late December to Landry, asking where did the investigation into the Sterling case stand.
"We had meetings with Jeff Landry in May of last year, and he promised this wouldn't linger on," James said. "He promised he'd keep us up to date — and that hasn't happened."
James said he has seen Landry focus his attention elsewhere these last few months. He said the Sterling case was handed to the Attorney General's Office with most of the "leg work" already completed by federal investigators.
"He continues to stall and not make it a priority," James said. "If it was a priority, a decision would have been made."
East Baton Rouge Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg quizzed Landry at a Rotary Club meeting Wednesday on the progress of the case, according to the Baton Rouge Business Report. Landry declined to give her a substantive update then, saying his office is continuing to "work diligently" on the case.
"What prompted me to ask him is that it seems to be an issue that comes up at every Metro Council meeting one way or another," Freiberg said. "We petitioned last summer to ask him to expedite this. … We've had no feedback. We've been given no information."
Joel Porter, attorney for Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S convenience store where Sterling was shot, said his client has not been contacted or interviewed by the Attorney General's Office. Porter said he and his client, who was a witness to the shooting, were contacted multiple times by federal investigators.
John McLindon, who represents Salamoni in the criminal case, declined to comment on the civil case. However he said it seems like the Attorney General's Office is "being thorough." Lake's attorney Fred Crifasi could not be reached for comment.
Both officers remain on paid administrative leave.
The federal investigation in May found the confrontation with Sterling, Salamoni and Lake lasted less than 90 seconds.
The officers approached Sterling at about 12:30 p.m. July 5, 2016, about a call that a black man selling CDs had threatened someone with a gun. They struggled with Sterling after he didn't comply with commands to put his hands on the hood of a car, then wrestled him down after Lake shocked him with a Taser, federal authorities said.
Investigators found that Salamoni shot Sterling three times after saying Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Sterling's back when he began to sit up. A loaded revolver was recovered from Sterling's pocket.
A spokeswomen for both the Attorney General's Office and legal counsel for the City-Parish government and Baton Rouge Police Department declined to comment on the recent subpoena or the progress of the cases due to the ongoing litigation.
"We are now a year and half from the date of the incident," DeCuir said. "Something needs to move forward. We need to bring this whole chapter some closure, whether on the criminal side or the civil side."