The US Justice Department will lead an investigation into the fatal police shooting of a black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, after family and protesters demanded an independent probe, the state’s governor said on Wednesday.
About 200 protesters gathered overnight chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot” and “Black lives matter” after Alton Sterling, 37, was shot and killed during an altercation with two white police officers at about 12:30am CDT on Tuesday, authorities said.
The incident, parts which were caught on a bystander’s video, follows widespread protests in the United States over deadly force by police against minorities in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, Baltimore and New York.
“I have very serious concerns. The video is disturbing, to say the least,” Governor John Bel Edwards told reporters. He said he had spoken with Sterling’s family and that they joined him in calling on protesters to be peaceful.
The US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Attorney’s Office will join in the investigation.
The two white officers were identified as Blane Salamoni, a 4-year veteran, and Howie Lake, a 3-year veteran, who were both put on administrative leave, Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said at a news conference.
Early Tuesday morning, the officers responded to a disturbance call from someone who said a black man wearing a red shirt and selling CDs outside a convenience store had threatened him with a gun, Dabadie said.
“When officers arrived Sterling was armed and the altercation ensued that resulted in the loss of his life,” Dabadie said.
The cell phone video of the incident, which has been widely shown on media, shows an officer confronting a black man in a red shirt in the parking lot of the Triple S Food Mart, and ordering him to get on the ground.
The video showed the two officers tackling the man to the pavement, one pulling a gun from his holster and pointed it at the man’s chest, then firing a shot. At least three gunshots were heard, although the camera jerks away from the scene. Police did not say how many shots were fired.
The body cameras of both officers became dislodged during the altercation, but continued recording audio and video, police said at the news conference. The recordings and other videos will be reviewed in the investigation, Dabadie said.
The owner of the Triple S mart, Abdullah Muflahi, who said he witnessed the shooting, told The Advocate newspaper that Sterling was armed but was not holding his gun or touching his pockets during the encounter. He said police retrieved a gun from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting.
Residents said Sterling was a fixture in the neighborhood where he sold CDs.
A rally that began at the site of the shooting on Tuesday afternoon swelled to a couple of hundred people overnight. Protesters chanted “no justice, no peace,” and occasionally blocked traffic. A makeshift memorial at the scene included notes to “Big Alton.”
Cameron Sterling, Alton’s 15-year-old son, broke down crying at a news conference on Wednesday morning as his mother spoke. “He was killed unjustly and without regard for the lives he helped raise,” said Cameron’s mother, who did not give her name.