A U.S. Congressman blasted the U.S. Department of Justice over their "failure to communicate with the community" about its long-awaited decision in the Alton Sterling shooting as local leaders said they have no concrete information, just widespread rumors of an impending announcement.
Several Baton Rouge elected officials urged calm amidst rumblings that a Sterling decision is imminent, possibly coming next week. Metro Councilman LaMont Cole, whose district includes the Triple S store where Sterling was shot, said in a statement that the chatter remained a mere rumor.
"I have received no official confirmation from anyone in the know," Cole said. "I would ask anyone who is hearing the same to continue to remain calm as we have done for nine months."
But the "persistent rumors" that an announcement from federal prosecutors is imminent "have risen to the point that local schools and other organizations are expending funds to prepare for a Tuesday announcement," Congressman Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, wrote in a sharply worded letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Richmond, who represents portions of Baton Rouge, wrote that the Department of Justice's lack of communication about its timeline for an announcement "has created angst and nervousness," calling it "inappropriate and against the interests of public safety" for federal officials "to allow this level of uncertainty to continue."
The FBI and federal Department of Justice have been investigating the fatal shooting of Sterling, 37, which took place during an altercation with two Baton Rouge police officers on July 5 outside a North Foster Drive convenience store. The federal probe centers on whether the officers — who've remained on paid leave since the shooting — committed civil rights violations.
In a statement sent by Communications Director Janene Tate, Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said she has "not received any inclination or notice of a decision being made," but emphasized that she is in "consistent communication" with Gov. John Bel Edwards's office, community groups and others.
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"Know that when I do receive the news, you will receive it as well. And, I will be right here with you all in this community that we proudly call home. I encourage you to stay vigilant and informed. All official statements and timely information will be made available via public briefings, the city-parish website, my official social media pages and reputable news outlets," Broome said.
Metro Councilman Matt Watson said he was not yet prepared to comment on the rumors. The councilman, whose district includes police headquarters, the site of many demonstrations last summer, said that Baton Rouge officers are as "prepared as they could possibly be" whenever a decision is announced.
Corey Amundson, the acting U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge, said earlier this week he couldn't comment on when federal prosecutors would announce their findings and declined to address the rumors. Federal officials have made almost no public comment on the investigation since it began the day after the shooting.
Richmond referenced several previous letters and a conversation with a Sessions deputy that left him "frustrated" in his letter Friday. "Quite frankly," Richmond told the nation's top prosecutor, "it does not seem like your office is taking this investigation seriously enough."
"Mr. Sterling's family and the broader community deserve a fair, open and transparent process, not an opaque and unaccountable investigation," Richmond wrote.
On Thursday, Baton Rouge state Rep. Ted James, a Democrat, said he can't "confirm or deny" anything but is "hearing the same things everyone is hearing about the DOJ response, that it's imminent."
Area law enforcement officials, including Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr., told The Advocate this week they haven't been told when to expect an announcement. But Dabadie and others said they've been preparing to respond to protests or demonstrations that might follow an announcement by federal prosecutors.
If federal prosecutors decline to bring charges, the case will be handed to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. His office will review the evidence to decide if any state charges should be filed.
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Staff writer Steve Hardy contributed to this report.