Last week’s firing of the officer who fatally shot Alton Sterling has prompted threats by others on the force to quit and sparked mixed reactions both in the department and in the community, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said Tuesday.

But Paul, who was selected to head the department just over three months ago, stood behind his decision to terminate Blane Salamoni, 30, saying it was the right thing to do.

Now, Paul said, he is faced with a divided community and some divisiveness within his department.

“Let’s just be honest, some of those divisions are on racial lines, and we are divided not only on this issue. The truth is if Alton Sterling was white and the officers were white, we probably wouldn’t even be down here talking about it,” he said.

Paul made the comments Tuesday at a Together Baton Rouge luncheon that was packed with nearly 150 people. It was the first time he spoke publicly since he announced Friday that he was terminating Salamoni. 

Salamoni and Officer Howie Lake II, 30, both white, responded to a 911 call in July 2016 about a man selling CDs outside a convenience store who had threatened someone with a gun. A struggle broke out between the two officers and Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, ending when Salamoni fired six shots at Sterling, killing him. A loaded handgun was found in Sterling's pocket after the shooting. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: Video contains graphic footage of the shooting scene at Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge. Can't see video? Click here.


Lake was suspended for three days for his conduct during the incident but will return to the city's police force. 

While Paul said he thinks some officers may “forget why they put that badge on” regardless of what he says or does, he still plans to convince those threatening to quit to stay.

“(Officers disagree) probably because I didn’t do a really good job at that press conference to explain the process on how I reached my decision because I was trying to be respectful of information that is not for public consumption because the hearing is private,” Paul said of the internal affairs disciplinary hearing. "But the appeal process will not be (private)."

The Baton Rouge Union of Police has said that it supports both Salamoni and Lake. Bryan Taylor, the president of the union, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

Paul said he has to be “very careful with my words” due to the possibility that Salamoni or Lake could appeal the disciplinary decision with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board.

Salamoni’s attorney, John McLindon, said Friday he plans to appeal the termination with the Civil Service Board, but those documents have not yet been filed.

Lake is expected to return to the force after nearly two years on paid administrative leave. Paul said Lake will have to catch up on some training before he can start working again. It has not yet been announced what job Lake will return to or when he will return.

Salamoni, who also had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, was terminated after Paul said at a news conference Friday that he found the officer violated department policies on use of force and command of temper. Lake, who did not fire his service weapon during the encounter with Sterling on July 5, 2016, was suspended for violating the department's command of temper policy, Paul said.

The end of the Police Department's internal investigation and the chief's news conference announcing Salamoni's firing came about a week after state Attorney General Jeff Landry said both officers would not be criminally charged. In May, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to bring federal civil rights violations against the two officers.

The Police Department also released Friday three videos showing the entirety of the shooting of Sterling. Portions of the incident circulated on social media in 2016 from two cellphone videos, prompting nationwide protests. 

The chief said that with the disciplinary decision behind him he hopes the department along with the community can move forward. 

Paul told the group about a new program in the works where officers would conduct a risk assessment of a household if police have been called more than a set number within a defined period of time. Paul said officers likely would work hand-in-hand with pastors and clergymen on projects like this.

“We really think that programs like that and the community policing is starting to help our officers have a different understanding,” Paul said. “Remember, we are changing perceptions: How you see the police officers and also how our police officers see the communities that we serve.”

When asked by Together Baton Rouge members about the soon-to-expire contract with the police union Tuesday, Paul declined to go into specifics because he has not yet sat down with union leaders to negotiate the agreement, which ends in June.

Generally, however, Paul said that a lack of changes in the contracts over multiple decades makes him question whether the department is moving forward in a progressive way, which he has said before. Paul said he believes he will be able to reach common ground with union leaders on a new agreement.

Advocate staff reporter Grace Toohey contributed to this report.

Follow Emma Discher on Twitter, @EmmaDischer.