Baton Rouge, LA – Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul said he was sorry his department ever hired the officer who fatally shot an armed, combative suspect in 2016.
Baton Rouge Police Officer Blane Salamoni’s use of deadly force against 37-year-old Alton Sterling was previously ruled justified both by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Louisiana Attorney General.
“In discussing these events, we must be mindful of what I’m describing took place very quickly,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry told reporters in 2018.
Sterling was “armed with a firearm and continuously resisting,” after officers attempted to lawfully arrest him, Landry added.
Sterling was shot after grabbing the gun in his pocket as officers fought to stop him from murdering them.
Toxicology reports indicated that drugs were likely a contributing factor to Sterling resisting arrest, according to the attorney general.
The state of Louisiana’s investigation came to the same conclusion that the U.S. Department of Justice had, and ruled that “both officers acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”
Chief Paul fired Officer Salamoni within days of Landry’s announcement that the fatal shooting was justified.
The chief alleged that Officer Salamoni violated use-of-force policies, as well as policies for command of temper.
The alleged policy violations against Officer Salamoni likely stemmed from him pointing his gun at Sterling’s head and threatening to blow his “f–king head off” as Sterling was resisting arrest. At the time, Officer Salamoni knew that he was dealing with a suspect who was reported to be armed with a gun.
The former officer appealed his termination, and later concurred with a settlement agreement that replaced his firing with a formal resignation, Chief Paul announced on August 1, according to The Advocate.
Chief Paul apologized to the community, and alleged that Salamoni should never have been hired by the Baton Rouge Police Department (BRPD).
“I want to apologize to the family of Alton Sterling and also to his kids,” the chief said, according to the Associated Press. “We’re sorry because he [Salamoni] should’ve never been hired.”
Chief Paul claimed that Salamoni had a well-documented pattern of “unprofessional behavior, police violence, marginalization, polarization and implicit bias,” and that he “should have never ever wore this uniform.”
“Baton Rouge, we are sorry,” the chief continued, according to The Washington Post. “We’re sorry for our failure not to discipline an officer who demonstrated unprofessional behavior and violated our code of conduct consistently, escalating incidents. We’re sorry, Baton Rouge.”
The chief was flanked by attorney Leo Hamilton, who told reporters that Salamoni had been arrested for a physical altercation prior to having joined BRPD, according to the Associated Press.
That arrest should have precluded him from being hired, and he never mentioned it in his application, Hamilton said.
But according to court records, Salamoni was detained in July 2009 after he allegedly yelled at and pushed a woman who he had recently broken up with, The Advocate reported.
He was transported to the police station on allegations of simple battery, but the woman ultimately decided not to pursue charges.
Chief Paul said that the former officer also got into an argument with a fellow officer at a firing range, and that he often used profanity when he was dealing with suspects.
“While we obviously can’t change the past, it is clear that we must change the future,” the chief continued. “I sincerely apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in building barriers in communities of color in the city of Baton Rouge.”
Salamoni’s parents both served with BRPD for many decades, and Chief Paul refused to comment about whether or not their high-ranking roles in the department had anything to do with how supposed allegations of misconduct against the now-former officer were handled, The Advocate reported.
Hamilton noted that there were concerns that Salamoni could have gotten his job back if the appeal had progressed further.
The former officer will not receive any backpay or other compensation as a result of the settlement agreement.
His attorney, John McLindon, blasted Chief Paul for the way he characterized Salamoni during the press conference, The Advocate reported.
McLindon argued that the former officer would have won the appeal “hands down,” but that he opted to settle in order to bring the three-year ordeal to a close.
“It’s very unfortunate that the chief presented a lot of extraneous accusations…What the chief did was not in the spirit of compromise,” McLindon said. “The idea was for both sides to bring closure to the city, and he unfortunately made a bunch of inflammatory remarks.”
In 2017, Sterling’s family also filed a wrongful death lawsuit, claiming that Officer Salamoni exemplified the longstanding, department-wide racist culture and excessive force of BRPD.
The fatal altercation occurred on July 5, 2016, after police received a 911 call from a man who said someone had pulled a gun on him.
Footage from the Triple S convenience store showed Sterling as he sat smoking cigarettes and selling CD’s at the front of the business, one source told CNN.
The camera, which was positioned behind Sterling, captured him as he approached a man in the left-hand corner of the frame, and pointed what appeared to be a handgun at him. He then placed the object in the front right pocket of his pants.
One of the claims made by Black Lives Matter is that Sterling had just been selling CDs, and the report of him with a weapon was inaccurate. The video dispelled those claims.
Within minutes, Sterling could be seen as he conducted a transaction with a different individual. He removed the weapon from the front right pocket of his pants, and placed it in his waistband, while he retrieved money from the same pocket.
Sterling handed the cash to the man, then removed the gun from his waistband, and placed it back into the front right pocket of his pants once again.
According to the source, “within 10 seconds,” Sterling was seen “jokingly” making a shooting gesture with his hand in his right pocket, as if he was “pretending” to shoot him.
“Pow, pow, pow,” Sterling could be heard saying in the video.
Minutes later, as Sterling was engaged in a transaction with two women, Officer Howie Lake arrived at the scene.
He interrupted the exchange, and told Sterling to put his hands on a vehicle, but the man refused.
Officer Lake then tried to physically control Sterling’s hands in an effort to put them on the vehicle, Landry said.
Sterling was still resisting arrest when Officer Salamoni arrived to back up Officer Lake.
Landry said Sterling spun around and pulled his right hand away from Officer Salamoni, so the officer pulled his weapon and threatened to shoot Sterling if he did not comply.
Officer Salamoni’s bodycam showed him as he approached Sterling from behind, and ultimately pointed his gun at Sterling’s head, the source told CNN.
The threat was “momentarily effective,” Landry said.
Officer Lake attempted to grab the man’s left hand, while Officer Lake worked to grab his right hand, but Sterling again resisted.
“Put your hands on the f–king car or I will blow your f–king head off!” Officer Salamoni yelled twice, according to the CNN source.
“He’s got a gun!” Officer Salamoni was heard saying in the video.
Cell phone footage showed the altercation from that point forward. Both officers’ bodycams were dislodged during the fight that ensued, and dashcam footage captured very little of the incident.
Officer Lake deployed his Taser, but it had little effect. Sterling momentarily fell to his knees but remained noncompliant, and tried to get back up again a moment later.
Officer Salamoni told Officer Lake to tase Sterling again, and he did – but the second deployment of the Taser had no effect on Sterling, Landry said.
At that point, Officer Salamoni holstered his weapon and tackled Sterling. They struggled on the ground with each officer trying to control one of Sterling’s arms.
In the videos reviewed by investigators, Officer Salamoni can be heard saying “he’s got a gun” and then “he’s going for the gun.”
Officer Salamoni fired three shots into Sterling’s chest and then rolled slightly away from him, “keeping his handgun trained on Mr. Sterling,” Landry said.
Sterling sat up and rolled to his left, away from Officer Salamoni.
“His hands and his right side appeared to be concealed from the view of both officers,” Landry explained.
Sterling tried to get up again and Officer Salamoni fired three additional shots into Sterling’s back.
Landry said that after the altercation, Officer Lake found a .38-caliber handgun in Sterling’s right front pocket, which was witnessed by people in the area.