The man who shot down Alton Sterling is a third-generation police officer, the son of two Baton Rouge city police captains—his mother once the department’s spokesperson, according to public records, and his father a former police union head who currently leads the SWAT team and was one of three finalists to become the new chief in 2013.
Now, even as the Justice Department takes control of the investigation into the shooting death and throngs of protesters line the streets of the river city, the question becomes: Will a well-connected police officer and his partner face criminal prosecution?
Noel and Melissa Salamoni raised their son Blane to be an officer of the law. The four-year veteran graduated from the police academy in 2011 and is married to a local EMT.
It appears from the videos we have seen that it was 28-year-old patrol officer Salamoni who fired the shots that killed Sterling outside of a convenience mart as mortified witnesses looked on. Sterling, who was widely known as “the CD man” and had the owner’s permission to set-up shop outside the store, never stood a chance and he was, according to the store owner Abdullah Muflahi, the wrong man.
Police dispatch tapes reportedly “show officers were initially dispatched to the scene for a report of a man who had pulled a gun on someone.” Someone called 911 to report a suspicious person at 2100 North Foster, according to WAFB-CBS Baton Rouge. The dispatcher radioed officers, informing them that the suspect is “on the corner” and was threatening someone with a gun. Muflahi, who had known Sterling for six years, contends that he was not the person police were looking for.
For his part, the store owner said, Sterling simply wanted to know what he had done wrong.
In a new video, obtained by The Daily Beast, it is impossible to see the justification for Salamoni’s actions. There was no visible provocation and Sterling, despite suggestions otherwise, never once produced a gun. There was nothing in his outstretched hands when the officers approached him. Even as they pinned him to the pavement, Sterling did not swing or kick.
Salamoni’s partner, Howie Lake II, appears to be the first to charge toward Sterling. It was Lake, a 29-year-old three-year veteran and barrel-chested former football player, who slammed him onto the hood of a car—as if he was sacking a quarterback—and wrestled him to the ground. If Salamoni or Lake ordered him to put his hands behind his back or made some other verbal attempt to take him into custody, it was not captured on two cellphone videos of the incident.
Sterling seemed stunned and confused, and offered no discernible resistance.
Contrary to earlier reports, it appears that there is footage from the officers’ body cameras for federal authorities to examine. Together with the dispatch tapes, cellphone videos, and the surveillance tape confiscated—apparently without a warrant or permission—from the Triple S convenience store, federal investigators are only now beginning to piece together was happened that night.
The second video, one taken from a short distance away, is clear. Both officers jammed their knees into Sterling’s body and both had their weapons drawn, but it was Salamoni who yelled “He’s got a gun! Gun!”
“You fucking move, I swear to God!” Salamoni shouted, pointing his service revolver at Sterling.
Moments later, Salamoni unleashed a volley of shots at close-range. He rolled off of Sterling, scooting backwards from him and, with the gun extended, continued pumping bullets into Sterling’s body, who was already mortally wounded with gaping holes to his chest.
“Fuck!” Salamoni cursed.
Lake stepped back into the camera frame, knelt down, and removed what appeared to be a gun from Sterling’s side pocket as he bled out on the pavement.
“Both officers OK. Suspect down. I need an EMS code 3,” an officer—it’s not clear which—said. Neither appears to have attempted to render medical aid.
After the shooting, says Muflahi, one of the officers said: “Just leave him.”
Knowing what we know now—about the shooting and about the conflicts of interest within the department—there is little wonder why Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. decided to relinquish his department’s role in any criminal investigation. He is himself the son of a police officer. Lt. Carl Dabadie Sr. was killed in the line of duty in 1985, the same year his namesake joined the force.
But to know that the Department of Justice, whether through Assistant Attorney General Jeff Landry or the civil rights division, is now leading the investigation, provides little comfort to those who have watched previous high profile cases unfold. As a nation, we have become all too accustomed to—if not weary of—a U.S. Attorney General’s office that refuses to bring charges against a police officer, despite incontrovertible videotaped evidence.
The people gathered Wednesday night at the Triple S convenience store to demand justice do so with the understanding the public protests are all too often necessary. That demonstrations, especially when fueled by social media, often brings national media attention and, with that, a greater level of transparency.
Even so, the people on the street—back in the spot where it all began, in front of a freshly painted mural of Sterling—understand how rare it is for a police officer to face criminal charges for killing a suspect in the line of duty. Grand juries are not inclined to indict an officer of the law and, even if they do, getting a conviction is often out of reach, as America has seen in the Freddie Gray cases that have come to trial.
“Oh, free my people,” they sing, as they are led by a Louisiana-style brass band through the streets. “Let my people go.”
The songs are meant to soothe, unite, and begin the healing. They know the deck is stacked against them, just as it was stacked against Alton Sterling.