Former Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni's preemployment psychological evaluation must be turned over to attorneys for the family of Alton Sterling, the black man fatally shot by Salamoni in 2016, the state Supreme Court has ruled.

The high court, however, said the information will be subject to a protective order prohibiting dissemination "to any persons not directly associated with this litigation."

Sterling's family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Salamoni, the city-parish and Baton Rouge Police Department, and others in mid-2017, a year after Sterling was shot to death by Salamoni — who is white — during a struggle outside a North Foster Drive convenience store.

Salamoni's attorney, Stephen Carleton, said Friday the Supreme Court ruling does not mean the results of his client's psychological evaluation will be put before a jury.

"Although it will be produced subject to a protective order, we don't believe it will be admissible at trial," he said. "It doesn't mean anything is going into evidence."

But attorneys for Sterling's family disagree and argue the information is highly relevant.

"This is a major, major decision for the plaintiffs' side in this case," said Michael Adams, one of the lawyers for Sterling's three youngest children and their mother. "We believe it will show this guy should have never been hired."

Then-state District Judge Michael Caldwell last summer ordered the city to release the results of Salamoni's psychological evaluation, which police department leadership reviewed during the hiring process.

His ruling came despite objections from Carleton, who argued it was a violation of Salamoni's medical privacy rights. The Sterling family attorneys had countered that the evaluation was used as a hiring tool.

Caldwell did not issue a protective order, but allowed 45 days before the order would be implemented to give the defendants time to appeal his decision before releasing the records.

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal denied Salamoni's appeal in January, and on Thursday a unanimous state Supreme Court amended Caldwell's ruling to prohibit the information from being disseminated to persons not directly associated with the case.

Carleton said he is pleased that the Supreme Court modified Caldwell's ruling so that the psychological evaluation won't be released to the public.

"I consider this a win, not a loss," he added.

The high court said Salamoni's appeal was denied "in all other respects."

Justice William Crain concurred in the order and wrote separately to encourage state District Judge William Morvant, who now presides over the case, to inspect the employment file and "determine the discoverability and relevance of the contents."

Brandon DeCuir, who also represents Sterling's youngest children and their mother, said two years of litigation went into trying to obtain Salamoni's psychological evaluation.

"We were right all along," he said.

L. Chris Stewart, who represents Sterling's two oldest children and their mothers, said he was "overjoyed at the Supreme Court ruling" but is somewhat frightened by what the psychological evaluation may reveal.

"I'm almost scared to see what's in the psych report," he said.

Salamoni was fired in 2018 by current Police Chief Murphy Paul but appealed and in a settlement last year was allowed to resign.

Paul said at the time that the new deal means Salamoni will "never be policing the streets of Baton Rouge again," which he said is crucial after reviewing Salamoni's track record — both before and during his time as an officer.

That record shows "a well-documented pattern of unprofessional behavior, police violence, marginalization, polarization and implicit bias by a man who should have never, ever worn this uniform. Period," Paul said. "We have to call it for what it is."

The trial of the Sterling family lawsuit is set for March 1 of next year. The East Baton Rouge Metro Council was unable to agree last December on a proposed settlement that resulted from mediation in the suit. Attorneys on both sides of the case have said they remain open to resolving it.

In addition to Salamoni, BRPD and the city-parish, the defendants include Howie Lake II, the other police officer involved in the fatal encounter with Sterling, and former Police Chief Carl Dabadie.

Sterling, 37, was shot to death July 5, 2016, by Salamoni outside the Triple S Food Mart on North Foster Drive, where Sterling made a living by selling homemade CDs and DVDs.

Salamoni and Lake had responded to an anonymous 911 caller who claimed a man matching Sterling's description threatened him with a gun outside the convenience store, according to a summary of the 10-month federal probe released by the Justice Department.

Two cellphone videos taken by bystanders captured the graphic conclusion of the roughly 90-second encounter. Salamoni can be heard yelling "gun" in the brief video clips just before the shooting.

Lake retrieved a loaded .38-caliber revolver from Sterling's pocket just after the shooting and both officers told investigators they thought Sterling was reaching for the weapon, according to federal authorities.

Lake, who used a stun gun on Sterling and helped wrestle him to the ground but did not fire his gun, last fall dropped his appeal of a three-day suspension he received for his actions. He remains on the police force.

Protests in the days after the shooting led to nearly 200 arrests. Just days after Sterling's funeral, a lone gunman from Kansas City, Missouri, shot officers near an Airline Highway business close to police headquarters July 17, 2016, killing two city policemen and an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy and wounding three other officers.

Federal and state prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to bring charges against Salamoni and Lake.


Email Joe Gyan Jr. at jgyan@theadvocate.com.