Rev. Al Sharpton looks on as pallbearers carry the casket of Alton Sterling after his funeral on July 15, 2016, at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sterling was shot July 5 by a police officer in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, leading the Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation. (Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
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No charges will be filed against the two police officers involved in the 2016 shooting death of Alton Sterling.
The announcement came Tuesday from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. He met with Sterling’s family to brief them before making a public announcement.
Our job was not to determine whether the Baton Rouge Police Department's policy was followed, or if certain tactics or language was more appropriate than others. After a thorough and exhaustive review of the evidence, the facts that can be established beyond a reasonable doubt, the law and jurisprudence of the state of Louisiana, and obligations of prosecutors under the code of professional conduct, the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with the prosecution of either Officer Lake or Officer Salamoni.
Officers shot Sterling, 37, on July 5, 2016, outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge. Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II approached Sterling after they decided that he fit the description of a man described in a 911 call.
A cellphone video showed Sterling being pinned to the ground before he was shot. The police officers involved have insisted that they believed that Sterling was reaching for a gun at the time. Authorities later determined Sterling was armed; however, the gun was not removed in his pocket.
The release of the video sparked outrage, and a number of Black Lives Matter protests across the country. Sterling was black, and both the officers involved were white.
What was the evidence against the officers?
Federal prosecutors ruled in May that there was “insufficient evidence” to warrant civil charges against the officers.
In order to convict the officers, the Justice Department would have needed to see evidence directly contradicting their account. While the cellphone video and footage from security cameras did not prove that they were telling the truth about whether Sterling was reaching for a gun, it did not directly contradict their testimony.
"Given these circumstances, the evidence cannot establish beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not appear to Officer Salamoni that Sterling was reaching for his pocket,” the Justice Department said at the time.
In his announcement Tuesday, Landry said that investigators had concluded that the officers had “tried to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling, based upon probable cause.”
He also said that toxicology reports pointed to illegal drugs in Sterling’s system at the time of his death, and “considering this, it is reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence, and that contributed to his non-compliance.”
Landry added that the officers' assessment that Sterling was “armed and dangerous was in fact subsequently verified and correct.”
The two officers involved are on paid administrative leave.
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