Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
Wednesday’s press conference on the police shooting of Alton Sterling named the officers involved, and brought up a troubling “mandate.”
A press conference was held Wednesday afternoon concerning the video of two Baton Rouge police officers killing Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old African American man who was selling CDs in front of a store before he was confronted by police. The press conference revealed a number of new facts:
- The police were called in by an unnamed person who said that a man fitting Sterling’s description had threatened them with a gun. No one at the press conference could confirm that Sterling actually had a gun, however.
- The names of the police officers involved in Sterling’s killing: Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, who’ve served on the Baton Rouge police force for four and three years, respectively. Both have been placed on administrative leave until internal affairs investigators determine whether disciplinary action should be taken.
Officers' names identified as Blaine Salamoni, 4yr veteran, and Howie Lake II, 3 years on force pic.twitter.com/0ykz2y1VbQ— Maya Lau (@mayalau) July 6, 2016
- The Baton Rouge police department and district attorney’s office have yielded the investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice. This has been one of the primary demands of the many people who’ve been protesting in the city’s streets and the Louisiana state capitol building since the video of Sterling’s killing was released.
- There is both police body camera and police dashboard camera footage from the killing, as well as video footage from the store where it happened. However, Baton Rouge police chief Carl Dabadie said that the bodycam footage became “dislodged” during the scuffle. Some audio and video from the other cameras may still be preserved, however.
- Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden received a call from Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who offered support and assistance, perhaps drawing from her experience dealing with city unrest after the police-involved death of Freddie Gray. No police officer involved has been found guilty of Gray’s death so far.
But it was District Attorney Hillar Moore’s final comments at the press conference that were the most stunning. Responding to a question about what troubled him the most after seeing the Sterling video, Moore admitted up front that Sterling was killed by the police officers. Moore then immediately went into a legal explainer about the police officer’s right to draw that kind of lethal outcome. Said Moore in response to a reporter’s question:
Well again, you know, it’s another person that’s dead, killed by law enforcement officers who have the authority by the state and the people— because we get our power, really, from the people, not just a piece of paper—that authorizes law enforcement to take a life in certain situations. Which is always—that’s why you guys are here in this situation and not on the streets of Baton Rouge where we have other killings, because this is potentially a state-authorized killing. [The law] gives law-enforcement officers the authority and mandates them to kill when in defense of themselves or others. So I think whenever there’s that situation and law enforcement officers [are] involved, it’s a completely different case than a person in the streets being killed.
This was the final note of the press conference. And for all of the talk throughout the gathering about justice, accountability, and transparency, Moore’s comments seemed to be the most concrete words spoken. He gave an assessment of a police officer’s right to take a life, and he reminded the public of officers’ legal right to do so if they feel threatened. These words may not have landed so gravely if not for the many instances throughout recent history when police officers have been acquitted of killing citizens.