(Reuters) — Louisiana will not charge two white police officers who in 2016 shot and killed Alton Sterling, one of a series of Black men slain by police that sparked protests across the United States, because evidence showed their actions were justified, a state official said on Tuesday.
Sterling’s death in Baton Rouge was one of a number of killings of Black men by white officers that helped fuel the Black Lives Matter movement and raised questions about racial bias in U.S. policing.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said Baton Rouge Officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake had good reason to believe Sterling, 37, was armed with a gun and was continuously resisting arrest.
“Our investigation has concluded that Officers Lake and Salamoni attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling based upon probable cause,” Landry told a news conference. “The Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either Officer Lake or Officer Salamoni.”
Civil rights activists have blamed the officers for escalating tensions during the arrest in a convenience store parking lot and turning it into a deadly encounter.
“He was murdered by two white racist police officers. He was murdered like an animal,” Sterling’s aunt, Veda Washington-Abusaleh, told reporters in a video posted on social media by local media after being informed by Landry’s office that no charges would be brought. She said she could not understand the decision.
Landry told reporters the two Baton Rouge officers gave verbal instructions and tried non-lethal methods to subdue Sterling.
Sterling was shot outside the store on July 5, 2016, after a resident reported he had been threatened by a Black man selling CDs. Police said Sterling was trying to pull a loaded gun out of his pocket when Salamoni opened fire.
The shooting prompted nationwide protests, including a demonstration two days later in Dallas at which five law enforcement officers were fatally shot by an African American ex-serviceman
In May 2017, federal prosecutors said they would not charge the two police officers in Sterling’s fatal shooting, which prompted his family members to call for a state investigation.
In June 2017, Sterling’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city government and police, alleging a history of excessive-force incidents and racism toward African Americans.
The 26-page lawsuit alleges that Salamoni and Lake breached protocol, used excessive force and violated Sterling’s constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures and of due process.