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Blane Salamoni

Nearly three months after the Alton Sterling shooting, Officer Blane Salamoni defended his decision to use deadly force, telling Baton Rouge police that Sterling seemed determined to kill him and his colleague, Howie Lake II, during a violent struggle outside the Triple S Food Mart.  

Salamoni was fired Friday for violating the Baton Rouge Police Department's use of force policy, accused of escalating the deadly encounter from the moment he arrived at the convenience store. 

He declined to answer questions during a disciplinary hearing last week and has not publicly addressed the shooting, which ignited national protests and a push for police reform in Baton Rouge. But Salamoni offered a blow-by-blow defense of his actions during a compelled statement in 2016, telling internal affairs investigators he had no choice but to open fire to save the lives of Lake and other civilians.  

Salamoni credited God with saving his life, claiming Sterling had "100 percent" pointed a .38-caliber revolver at him while the two were wrestling on the ground. He said he used repeated profanity during and even after the encounter in part because he was "so mad at Sterling for making him kill him," according to police reports released Friday. 

"Officer Salamoni stated that if Sterling killed Officer Lake, 'me and Sterling would get in a gun battle and Sterling may kill all of the civilians behind him,'" the report says. "Officer Salamoni stated that he and Officer Lake knew that it was a high probability that Sterling had a weapon in his pants, so they were scared."

Salamoni and Lake had gone to the Triple S Food Mart in response to a 911 call from someone reporting that a man who was selling CDs outside the store had brandished a weapon. 

The Sterling shooting has been the subject of intense debate around the country, with politicians, prosecutors and a parade of experts weighing in on the case. But even after months-long state and federal investigations, the firsthand accounts of the officers have been missing from the heated public discourse.

That changed late Friday when, in addition to graphic new footage of Sterling's death, the Baton Rouge Police Department released an internal affairs investigation that included compelled statements from both Salamoni and Lake. Their accounts, which conflicted at times, by law could not be used in the criminal inquiries. 

But Police Chief Murphy Paul said he reviewed the statements in deciding to fire Salamoni and suspend Lake three days for failing to control his temper. Paul, echoing the criticism of his boss, East Baton Rouge Parish Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, said Salamoni disregarded the department's training and "organizational standards" in his approach. 

The officers, in their interviews, portrayed Sterling as the aggressor — a claim that several experts who reviewed video of the encounter disputed even as they noted that Sterling clearly resisted arrest. Neither officer was charged in Sterling's death.

Salamoni, who arrived at the store seconds after Lake, said that his fellow officer "was trying to be nice and as calm as possible while speaking to Sterling." He said Sterling, by contrast, "became very violent and began pulling away from the officers," adding he "was elbowing and swinging."

Lake recalled Sterling's demeanor differently and said he also never saw the man point a gun. He told Baton Rouge police that Sterling "would not cooperate and listen to the commands that were given to him, but he did not punch or kick."

"He just tensed up and would not give up and give us his hands," Lake said, according to the report.  

 Salamoni said he was "belly to belly" with Sterling at one point and saw the man pointing the weapon at him. He said Sterling was "constantly going towards his front pocket with his hands," the report says. "He was actively trying to stand up and trying to keep me from taking him to the ground," Salamoni said. 

New footage of the shooting released Friday does not depict Sterling pointing a weapon. But both of the officers' body cameras came loose during the heated struggle.    

"'Oh God, please don't let this guy shoot me, I don't want to die,'" Salamoni recalled thinking as he sought to subdue Sterling, according to the report. "The way that I was positioned, every shot that he would have taken would have hit me and killed me."  

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video below contains highly graphic footage and extreme language recorded on the body camera worn by Salamoni while the shooting occurred. Can't see video? Click here. 

Lake told internal affairs that he, too, saw Sterling reaching for his pocket and spotted a handgun sticking out about half an inch. "I have seen enough guns in my life to know what the butt end of a revolver looks like," he said. 

Lake also said Salamoni had no other choice but to fire his gun, adding he believed the officer's life was in danger. When the first shots rang out, Lake said he was looking in Sterling's eyes and did not immediately know who had fired. 

Lake, asked whether there was anything in their training that he felt Salamoni could have used other than deadly force, said, "In the situation that we were in, no."  

Asked during the 2016 interview about the profanity he used, Salamoni said, "he felt that if he started cursing Sterling, Sterling would realize that the police are here and we are not playing. Officer Salamoni stated that his goal was to stop the incident, hoping that Sterling would just put his hands behind his back."

Salamoni told police that "God was probably the only reason that Sterling did not shoot him because if he did, he would have shot him in his femoral arteries or groin and he would be dead."

"Officer Salamoni stated that he doesn't really remember much," the report says, "but he did curse a lot due to an adrenaline dump and due to him not wanting to kill Sterling."

Advocate staff writer Emma Discher contributed to this report

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.