BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A deadly confrontation between two white Louisiana police officers and a black man lasted less than 90 seconds. The criminal investigation of Alton Sterling’s fatal shooting by one of the officers has lasted more than 1 ½ years — and there’s no clear end in sight.
The Justice Department ruled out federal charges against the Baton Rouge officers in May after investigating for nearly 10 months. More than eight months have passed since Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office inherited the case to decide if any state charges are warranted.
The pace of the attorney general’s review has frustrated Sterling’s family. Landry hasn’t explained whether his office is merely reviewing the Justice Department’s files or is gathering additional evidence of its own.
During a Rotary Club speech earlier this week, Landry wouldn’t give a timetable for his office to announce a decision. He said his staff has been “working diligently” since it began reviewing the evidence gathered by federal authorities.
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“At the time that we got that information, I know that it was day 380-something for y’all. It was day one for us,” Landry, a Republican, said Wednesday in response to an audience member’s question. He added that they’re “working as fast as we can, but we’re going to ensure that the process is done in a very, very thorough manner.”
Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman Barbara Freiberg, a fellow Republican, was the Rotary Club audience member who asked Landry for an update. His response left her wishing Landry would provide a more detailed explanation for why his office is still reviewing the case.
“It just seems that the community deserves some kind of timeline,” she said during an interview Thursday.
Two cellphone videos of Sterling’s shooting on July 5, 2016, quickly spread on social media, sparking nightly protests that led to nearly 200 arrests. The shooting also inflamed racial tensions in the city.
Officer Blane Salamoni shot and killed Sterling during a struggle outside a convenience store where the 37-year-old black man was selling homemade CDs. Officer Howie Lake II helped wrestle Sterling to the ground, but Lake didn’t fire his gun.
Federal authorities said Salamoni yelled that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket before shooting him three times, and then fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move. The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket. Less than 90 seconds elapsed between the officers’ first command to Sterling and the firing of Salamoni’s final shot, the federal investigation found.
Landry’s office is reviewing the case because East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore recused himself, citing his professional relationship with Salamoni’s parents, both of whom have served as Baton Rouge police officers.
Democratic State Rep. Ted James, who met with Landry in May to discuss the case, expressed doubt that charges will be brought against either officer.
“When it takes this long, folks are looking for reasons not to prosecute,” said James, an attorney.
In September, attorneys for Sterling’s family asked Landry’s office for access to unreleased video and audio recordings from the shooting investigation, including surveillance video from the convenience store. On Tuesday, the lawyers filed a subpoena in an effort to compel Landry’s office to turn over the videos and other unreleased evidence.
Landry’s office didn’t immediately respond to the subpoena. However, in a letter dated Oct. 10, Landry said his office couldn’t let them view any of that evidence “in order to maintain the integrity of the state’s investigation.” He said his office was still reviewing the “voluminous file” it received from the Justice Department.
“Once that review and investigation is completed, we will make a prosecutorial decision based on the facts and the law,” he wrote.
L. Chris Stewart, one of the lawyers representing Sterling’s children, said the state shouldn’t have to “redo” the investigation unless it felt the federal one “wasn’t sufficient.”
“They already allegedly did a very thorough review,” Stewart said of the Justice Department.
Salamoni’s lawyer, John McLindon, said he has had “minimal” contact with Landry’s office.
“I guess they’re just being extraordinarily thorough, as they should be,” McLindon said.
Associated Press reporter Melinda Deslatte contributed to this report.