After nearly two years of investigations and a public outcry over the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul on Friday fired one officer and suspended another as he pleaded with the community to heal the wounds and look forward.
Officer Blane Salamoni’s interactions with Sterling in July 2016 violated departmental policies that warranted his dismissal, Paul said. Salamoni was the officer who fired the fatal shots. The second officer involved, Howie Lake II, handled the situation more appropriately, Paul said, even de-escalating the situation. Lake was given a 3-day suspension for some of his actions that night.
"We had two officers involved in one incident, the same incident with two different responses," Paul said. He said his decision was not based on politics or emotion, but on "the facts of the case.”
The two officers, both white, were attempting to arrest Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, after a 911 call came in about a man selling CDs outside a north Baton Rouge convenience store who had threatened someone with a gun. Sterling matched the description and, after a brief struggle with the officers that lasted less than 90 seconds, he was shot. Officers found a loaded handgun in Sterling's pocket.
Paul said based on the department's internal affairs investigation, Salamoni violated policies on use of force and command of temper. He said Lake did not violate their use of force policy, but was in violation of command of temper. Salamoni's termination as a Baton Rouge Police officer became effective Friday, Paul said.
"These actions were not minor deviations from policy, as they contributed to the outcome that resulted in the death of another human being," Paul said.
The police department's use of force policy states: "Every member of the department shall use only the force necessary to effect an arrest or maintain the custody of a suspect."
The command of temper policy directs officers to "exercise emotional control" and says they should not "use rude or derogatory language, racist terminology, or attempt to deride, offend, or insult anyone."
Salamoni's lawyer, John McLindon, said they will appeal the decision to the Municipal Police and Fire Civil Service Board. McLindon said Friday night that he didn't think Salamoni violated either policy and said he should have gotten a punishment similar to Lake's.
McLindon said Salamoni has recently realized he can never return to being a police officer in the city of Baton Rouge, but filing an appeal is a "matter of pride," hoping for an acknowledgement that his actions in the shooting were appropriate.
Kyle Kershaw, Lake's lawyer, said he and his client have not decided if they will appeal the suspension. However, he said he believes Lake acted in a way that should not have warranted any sanction.
"He didn't do anything wrong," Kershaw said, but noted that Lake is ready to get this behind him and return to work next week. "He wants to get back to his job," Kershaw said.
Paul's administrative decision came as the department also released the officers' body camera videos and store surveillance footage, which captured the graphic shooting from start to finish. Only portions of the shooting from two cell phone videos had been seen previously. Those videos, which were shared widely on social media, sparked days-long protests in July 2016.
The attorneys for Sterling’s five children said they applauded Paul’s decision to fire Salamoni, calling it courageous, but said they would have also liked to see Lake fired.
"They sat there and cussed over him and called him names as he sat there bleeding and dying and not once did they ever become the guardian that Chief Paul just said his police officers should be,” said Brandon Decuir, an attorney for Sterling's children. "Blane Salamoni was no longer a guardian for the citizens of Baton Rouge and Howie Lake was complicit sitting there. … His actions are still egregious."
Before announcing the decision about the officer's discipline, Paul called on the community to "please stop resisting... stop running." He asked for community support and said that, in exchange, officers will act professionally and in accordance with policy. If they do not, Paul said, residents should file official complaints so the issue can be handled.
But Paul also pledged his support to his police force — an agency that he's been at the helm of for less than three months — and called on local leaders to "pay our officers" what he said they deserve.
Paul also noted that during a Thursday night disciplinary hearing, which precedes any disciplinary decision, that Salamoni, on the advice of his attorney, had declined to answer questions. McLindon said Salamoni had given two statements during the investigation, and "they had everything they needed." Paul said Lake did respond to questions during his disciplinary hearing.
In the statements that Salamoni did give to internal affairs investigators shortly after the shooting, he said Sterling "became very violent and began pulling away from the officers," according to internal police records released Friday. Salamoni added that he and Lake “knew that it was a high probability that Sterling had a weapon in his pants, so they were scared."
“Salamoni stated that Officer Lake was trying to be nice and as calm as possible while speaking to Sterling,” the records state. Salamoni said he used repeated profanities during the encounter hoping that Sterling “would realize that the police are here and we are not playing.”
The videos released Friday did not clearly show that Sterling became immediately violent with the officers. In the initial moments, Sterling asks, "What I do?" and uses the word "sir" to address the officers.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Jeff Landry announced he would not pursue criminal charges against officers Salamoni and Lake, based on their investigation of the incident.
Baton Rouge police released graphic new video Friday of the Alton Sterling shooting, including officer-worn body camera footage that offered a…
Police department leadership delayed their internal disciplinary decision until the end of the criminal investigations into the officers' actions, which they called protocol to ensure due process.
The Louisiana Attorney General's Office began their review of the incident after the U.S. Department of Justice announced in May they would not bring federal civil rights charges against the officers. Those two subsequent investigations took nearly 20 months to complete.
Paul, who was hired by East Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, had faced mounting political pressure to discipline the officers involved in the shooting.
Broome previously called for sanctions against the officers, including the termination of Salamoni, who fired the shots that killed Sterling. Following Landry's announcement Tuesday that he would not pursue criminal charges against the officers, Broome said she had "supreme confidence" in Paul to complete the disciplinary process.
Community activists, the Sterling family and their attorneys had called repeatedly for the police department to fire the officers.
In closed door meetings with federal attorneys last May, attorneys said they they were disturbed to hear how Salamoni approached Sterling, holding a gun to the man's head while shouting a profanity-filled threat to shoot him if he didn't obey their commands.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry on Tuesday declined any criminal charges against the two white Baton Rouge police officers involved in …
Salamoni and Lake have been on paid administrative leave since the incident. The city-parish government has spent more than $130,000 paying the officers' salaries since they have been off the job, according to payroll records. Paul said the department will not attempt to get reimbursed for any of those payments to Salamoni.
The brief encounter between the officers and Sterling on July 5, 2016, outside the Triple S Food Mart Mart on North Foster Drive lasted less than 90 seconds and ended with Salamoni shooting Sterling six times.
Both federal investigators and Landry described how, in the beginning of the interaction, Salamoni pulled his service weapon on Sterling while threatening to shoot him. Landry's report details that Salamoni told Sterling, “Don’t f****** move or I’ll shoot you in your f****** head.”
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.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The video below contains highly graphic footage and extreme language recorded on the body camera worn by Lake while the shooting occurred. Can't see video? Click here.
Salamoni and Lake then attempted, unsuccessfully, to subdue Sterling with a stun gun. Salamoni later tackled Sterling and wrestled with him on the ground.
Landry said both officers worked together to try to control Sterling's two arms while Sterling "actively resists."
When the U.S. Justice Department announced last year it would not pursue civil-rights charges in the death of Alton Sterling, East Baton Rouge…
While struggling on the ground, Landry said Salamoni drew his weapon and said, 'If you move I swear to God,' and then Salamoni "can be heard excitedly saying, 'He's got a gun.'" He fired six shots, killing Sterling.
Salamoni, who had been an officer for four years before the Sterling shooting, is a third-generation law enforcement agent. The 30-year-old had previously worked in construction.
His mother, Melissa Salamoni, served 32 years as a Baton Rouge police officer, rising to the rank of captain and becoming the organization’s first female chief of staff. Blane Salamoni’s father, Capt. Noel Salamoni, still works in the department and is a former leader of the city police union. At least one of Blane Salamoni’s grandparents also was a Baton Rouge police officer, Advocate archives show.
According to departmental records, Blane Salamoni had only one complaint sustained against him in his four-year career, for which he received a letter of caution involving an automobile crash that happened in June 2012. The sustained complaint was later marked “expunged.”
In July 2015, while responding to a report of a man being pushed out of a moving vehicle, Salamoni was accused of chasing the automobile into a retaining wall, causing injuries.
And in August 2015, the Catholic High School graduate admitted to striking a man in the head, causing a wound that needed stitches. He said he struck the blow because it was the only way to subdue the man, who was trying to grab the officer’s stun gun.
The latter two incidents were both found to have been “not sustained,” records show.
Salamoni said that he graduated first in his academy class in August 2011, according to an Advocate article. He joined the department’s Special Response Team, colloquially known as SWAT, in 2015.
As an officer, Salamoni has received numerous commendations, including a lifesaver award in 2014 for saving an unconscious man from an overheated house, records show.
Salamoni graduated in 2010 from Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond with a criminal justice degree, according to records from the department.
Lake, 30, had a use-of-force complaint lodged against him in April 2014 on allegations he injured a 15-year-old boy while trying to arrest him.
In a separate incident in December of that year, Lake was accused of again using force after responding to an incident in which another officer fired at an armed man, striking him. Later, the man, Kevin Knight, pointed a revolver at a different officer, and several lawmen, including Lake, fired several rounds at Knight but didn’t kill him, according to a shooting review report of the incident.
Records show Lake was exonerated of both complaints.
Lake also had also been a part of BRPD's Special Response Team, or SWAT, according to payroll records.
Blane Michael Salamoni, a 28-year-old lawman of four years, is the Baton Rouge police officer who shot and killed Alton Sterling early Tuesday…