BATON ROUGE, La. — Four previous “use of force” complaints were lodged against the two white police officers in the video-recorded shooting death of a black man and they were cleared in all of them, according to internal affairs documents released Thursday.
The complaints included three black men and a black juvenile. One of the men was shot when police said he pointed a gun at them and the others were injured during arrests and a police pursuit in a vehicle.
The documents were released a day after the Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation into the shooting of 37-year-old Alton Sterling, who was killed by police during an altercation outside of a convenience store where he was selling CDs. Police say he was armed and an eyewitness said he had a gun in his pocket.
Sterling was a convicted felon, which would have barred him from legally carrying a gun, according to court records.
Cellphone video of his shooting was posted online and set off angry protests in this city of about 229,000, where 54 percent of the population is black and more than 25 percent live in poverty.
The officers involved are Blane Salamoni, a four-year member of the department, and Howie Lake II, who has been on the force for three years. Each had two prior “use of force” complaints.
Lake was involved in a police shooting in December 2014 when a black man refused to drop his gun, threatened to kill himself and pointed his revolver at officers. The man was wounded by police.
He also injured a combative black juvenile when they went to the ground during a struggle on April 19, 2014, according to documents. The juvenile cut his chin.
Salamoni’s complaints involved punching a black man on Aug. 5, 2015, when he tried to grab the officer’s stun gun and a vehicle pursuit on June 17, 2015, in which a black man was injured when he crashed into a retaining wall.
Separately, Salamoni was issued a letter of caution for his involvement in a “preventable crash” on June 13, 2012.
Salamoni’s father, Noel Salamoni, is a Baton Rouge police captain and one of six commanders directly under Chief Carl Dabadie. Once president of the local police union, Noel Salamoni was a finalist for chief in 2013, losing out to Dabadie.
His mother, Melissa Salamoni, retired in June as a Baton Rouge police captain after 32 years on the force. She was hailed on the department’s Facebook page as a trailblazer, commanding multiple investigative units and serving as the first woman chief of staff. She collected 20 career commendations.
Blane Salmoni’s wife, Allison, was named 2016 emergency medical technician of the year in Louisiana by Acadian Ambulance, a private ambulance company.
STERLING’S CRIMINAL RECORD
Sterling pleaded guilty in 2011 to being a felon in possession of a firearm and illegally carrying a weapon. A judge in Baton Rouge sentenced him to five years in prison, giving him credit for time served.
Court records show Sterling also was arrested in May 2009 after an officer confronted him outside a store where he was selling CDs. It was a different store than the one where he was killed.
According to a police report, Sterling tried to reach into his pocket when the officer was frisking him, ignored the officer’s commands to keep his hands on a police vehicle and tried to run away, a police report said.
“I then grabbed the defendant by the back of his shirt and pushed him to the ground (giving) out loud verbal commands to stop resisting,” the officer wrote.
A gun fell from Sterling’s waistband while the officer was “wrestling” with him. Other officers arrived and helped arrest him.
A group of community and faith-based leaders called Together Baton Rouge asked the Justice Department to widen the scope of its investigation, saying it should include possible criminal violations such as battery, assault with a deadly weapon, negligent homicide and manslaughter.
Richard Carbo, spokesman for Gov. John Bel Edwards, said the U.S. attorney’s office in Baton Rouge will look into not only whether civil rights were violated, but also any other violations of state and federal law.
If they find any violation of state laws, the U.S. attorney’s office will refer it back to the local district attorney for prosecution.
After meeting with the U.S. attorney’s office to get an update on the probe, the Democrat put out a statement saying: “The people of Baton Rouge and across Louisiana should have no doubt that a thorough and impartial investigation is taking place as we speak.”
At an evening vigil for Sterling, the governor thanked residents of the city for remaining peaceful and promised to make improving law enforcement a priority.
“So now is not only a time to grieve but also talk and, more importantly, to listen to one another,” he said.
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