The local civil service board is working to acquire security for next month's appeal hearing for fired Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni, as they expect the review of the July 2016 fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling will draw heightened interest and controversy.

The Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, which reviews disciplinary actions for both the Baton Rouge Police and Baton Rouge Fire departments, has asked the Louisiana State Police or the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office to provide security for the April appeal hearing, because they believe those agencies will be more neutral during the proceedings. State Police has denied that request. The Sheriff's Office has not yet responded. 

"We believe that significant security is going to be necessary, and that it would be wiser to provide for that security and not need it, than to be unprepared, should disruption occur," Julie Cherry, the chair of the civil service board, wrote in letters to State Police Superintendent Kevin Reeves and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux. "If the Baton Rouge Police Department provides that security, it may serve to provoke some citizens."

While the five-member civil service board rarely draws much public attendance to its monthly meetings, in anticipation of Salamoni's hearing they have reserved the city's Metro Council chambers at City Hall to accommodate a larger crowd. The local board typically meets at the Fire Department's headquarters off Harding Boulevard near the Metro Airport. 

Reeves mentioned the location of the hearing as one of his reasons he declined Cherry's request.

"BRPD has extensive experience in providing security for this setting as well as council meetings," Reeves wrote in a letter to Cherry last month. "My concern is that LSP's introduction into the security at this meeting, where the law enforcement authority of BRPD is at issue, would serve to unfairly undermine the interest of the law enforcement parties involved in the hearing."

Reeves also noted he has not received any "particular threat assessments which indicate that the heightened security you request will be necessary," so he did not want exacerbate tension without cause.

The civil service board members said Thursday they expect disruptions and challenges at Salamoni's appeal hearing, which is set to begin April 16 at 9:30 a.m. The board has reserved three full days for testimony and deliberations.

At the board's meeting Thursday, Cherry said she still hopes to hear from the sheriff, whom she wrote to earlier this week after the denial from State Police.

The Sheriff's Office did not immediately answer a request Thursday for comment. 

At this point, without either State Police or the Sheriff's Office support, Cherry said, the board will plan for the Baton Rouge Police Department to provide security. 

"I still think it would be better to have a neutral provider of security," Cherry said. "I think the meeting will be charged, and rightfully so.

“If we need to have to ask someone to leave, I think it would be best to have it not be a Baton Rouge police officer," Cherry added.

Cpl. Robb Moruzzi, the police department's representative on the board, said he had spoken with Police Chief Murphy Paul, who had supported the idea that a neutral agency provide security. 

“I felt that it would look better and be better for the public, and be more inviting, if we didn't have BRPD officers providing security," Moruzzi said.

Salamoni was fired last March by Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul for his actions in the encounter with Sterling.

Salamoni, along with Baton Rouge Police officer Howie Lake II, responded to a 911 call on July 5, 2016 about a man selling CDs outside a convenience store on North Foster Drive who had brandished a weapon. Sterling matched the caller's description and, after a brief struggle with the officers that lasted less than 90 seconds, Salamoni fired six shots, killing Sterling. Officers found a loaded handgun in Sterling's pocket. 

Portions of the shooting were captured on cellphone videos by bystanders. Those videos were shared on social media, sparking nationwide protests over police brutality. Almost two years later, the police department released the officers' body camera footage as well as local surveillance video, which showed the most complete turn of events in the shooting, drawing additional scrutiny over how Salamoni approached Sterling and escalated the situation. 

Neither officer was charged with any criminal or civil rights violations after federal and state officials separately reviewed the incident and sought the counsel of use-of-force experts. 

Lake was suspended for three days for his actions in the shooting. He has also appealed his suspension, but the civil service board has not yet set a date for that hearing. 


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.