Barring a settlement, the trial of the Alton Sterling wrongful death lawsuit will begin March 1, nearly five years after the man was fatally shot by a Baton Rouge police officer during a struggle outside a store.

The new trial date was set after state District Judge William Morvant held a telephone status conference late last week with attorneys for Sterling's five children and their mothers, the two officers involved in the deadly encounter, the city-parish and Police Department, and former Police Chief Carl Dabadie.

The trial was originally scheduled to start April 20 of this year, but that date was scrubbed after the judge presiding over the case changed hands several times. There also is an appeal pending before the state Supreme Court on an evidentiary matter.

On top of that, the Supreme Court has said no trials of any kind can take place in the state until at least June 30 due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. The 19th Judicial District Court also remains closed for all but emergency matters.

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

Salamoni and officer Howie Lake II 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 investigation 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 he shoots Sterling six times.

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, federal authorities have said.

The Sterling family's lawsuit, filed in mid-2017, alleges the shooting exemplified longstanding problems of racist attitudes and excessive force among Baton Rouge police officers. Sterling was black and Salamoni is white.

The lawsuit claims Salamoni and Lake ignored department policies and training during the deadly encounter.

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, ambushed officers at an Airline Highway business near police headquarters July 17, 2016, killing two city policemen and an East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff's deputy and wounding three other officers.

The East Baton Rouge Metro Council was unable to agree last December on a proposed settlement that resulted from mediation in the Sterling lawsuit.

Attorneys on both sides of the case said recently they remain open to resolving it.

Morvant has scheduled a pretrial conference for Feb. 2.

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

Lake, who tased 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.

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


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