BATON ROUGE, Louisiana — Abdullah Muflahi sat on a beer cooler inside the Triple S Food Mart and described what it was like to watch police kill his friend.
“It was a nightmare, it was a nightmare,” Muflahi, the owner of this small convenience store, told The Daily Beast over and over. “I kept expecting to wake up.”
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was standing in the parking lot selling CDs as he had for years when two white cops arrived on Tuesday night. By Wednesday morning he was dead and protesters were in the city’s streets. Calls erupted from Congress and the NAACP for an independent investigation into the shooting, which the Justice Department announced within hours.
Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake were reportedly responding to a 911 call about a man threatening someone with a gun before they arrived, but Muflahi said no one was waving a gun, certainly not Sterling.
“He didn’t even tell me about anything, he usually tells me,” Muflahi said. “He’s not that type of person. It would have been a very big problem to pull his gun out.”
A homeless man reportedly called 911 after Sterling showed him his gun after the man asked him for money, an official told CNN. A Baton Rouge police dispatcher then told officers a man matching Sterling's description “pulled a gun” on the 911 caller, according WAFB-TV.
Muflahi walked out the front door when he saw the officers talking to Sterling and said there was no “altercation,” as police claimed, until the cops tasered and tackled Sterling. That’s when Muflahi took out his phone and started recording.
The Daily Beast is publishing this video in its entirety—despite its graphic nature—because it shows what happened before, during, and after the killing of Sterling. A previous video only showed him being tackled and the first two gunshots.
“I swear to God if you fucking move!” one of the officers yelled, pointing his gun at Sterling’s chest. “He’s got a gun! Gun!”
Muflahi’s video does not appear to support the officer’s claim that Sterling’s gun represented an active threat: It appears to have been in a pocket and never reached his hand. Instead, the video shows Sterling pinned down, shot twice in the chest, and then shot four more times.
After mortally wounding him, one of the officers removes an object from Sterling’s right pants pocket. (Police during a Wednesday press conference refused to comment on whether Sterling had a gun.)
“Fuck!” one cop yells into his radio. “10-4, 10-4… shots fired! Shots fired!”
Sterling was still alive, the video capturing his left hand moving over a dark pool of blood filling the center of his red T-shirt. When paramedics arrived minutes later, Sterling was dead.
Muflahi said he and two eyewitnesses who were also recording the incident from their vehicle were taken by police to headquarters to be interviewed.
Police asked Muflahi for the surveillance footage from his store but he refused to turn it over without a warrant, he said.
“I told them I would like to be in the store when [they took it],” Muflahi said. “They told me they didn’t want me to see the footage.
“I never received a warrant,” but the video was taken anyway, Muflahi said.
What police didn’t know is Muflahi and Arthur Reed, a Black Lives Matter activist sitting in a nearby car, also recorded the incident on their cellphones.
Thanks to Reed’s video, protesters hit the streets almost immediately. By the Wednesday morning, nearly 100 people came to the Triple S Food Mart to debate the best way to respond to Alton’s death. Some suggested an economic boycott of Baton Rouge businesses, while others wanted to march on the state Capitol to protest. People stood on the side of the road and waved “Black Lives Matter” signs amid a nonstop stream of car horns.
At the same time the Baton Rouge Police Department said it placed officers Salamoni and Lake on paid administrative leave while the shooting is investigated. The Justice Department announced a separate investigation after calls for a federal inquiry from members of Congress and the NAACP.
“Based on my review, I thought this would be better handled by an independent agency,” District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said in a press conference. “The officers feel they were completely justified,” he added.
Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said he would not heed a call by the local chapter of the NAACP to step down. People also called for the police officers to be arrested and the Baton Rouge mayor, Kip Holden, to resign. “Kip hasn’t been out here yet,” said one woman during a protest at the scene the next morning.
“I’m not resigning. I’m not retiring,” Dabadie said.
Citizens and activists won’t take no for an answer, though.
“We have to vote,” a young man named Earl Seiger said. “We have to select the people who make the decisions for our community.” Sterling’s pastor, Carl Williams, said this is just the beginning.
“I will go to my grave trying to make something happen,” he said. “The ground has been polluted with innocent blood.”