We Now Have An Alton Sterling Wrongful Death Civil Suit

The survivors of Alton Sterling, who was shot by Baton Rouge Police Officer Blaine Salamoni amid a struggle last July and whose case resulted in large protests, including a couple which amounted to near riots, and a “retaliatory” shooting which killed three law enforcement officers last year, are now in court with a civil suit against the BRPD, Salamoni and his partner Howie Lake II, the city of Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge police chief Carl Dabadie and the city’s insurance company.

Here’s a copy of the 43-page petition.

It’s really something to read. The way Sterling’s survivors tell it, there was no reason whatsoever that the police should have been impolite toward him – the 911 call which alleged he was brandishing a weapon and threatening people at 2 in the morning was merely a “tip” to the police and therefore the cops shouldn’t have been threatening toward Sterling.

The petition says “verbal judo” should have been used, and the BRPD is improperly trained in de-escalation procedures. It makes much of the allegation that Salamoni approached Sterling with a profane outburst coupled with a threat to kill him if he didn’t comply with police commands – a tactic that many cops will say usually works to instill fear and docility in a subject – and establishes that as a basis to explain the incident as the product of a racist police force sending goons out to terrorize black people in North Baton Rouge.

The petition complains that white police officers are sent to black areas to write tickets and arrest people for DUI and other infractions as a means of harassing the black community – something which isn’t entirely wrong, though it misses the mark when it imputes race into the equation. The city of Baton Rouge uses BRPD as a revenue agency by copious use of ticket-writing, and everyone in town knows this, but that’s hardly restricted to the majority-black areas of town.

We learn in the petition, though it was already public knowledge, that Sterling had five children by three different women; those eight people are the plaintiffs in the case.

Baton Rouge mayor-president Sharon Weston Broome reads in the petition almost as through she wrote some of it – as Broome’s rhetoric and action regarding BRPD practices is used to make the argument for the police department’s deficiency with respect to how it handles conflict.

The reader is encouraged to form his or her own conclusion, but our impression is that the plaintiff attorneys in the case and Broome’s office collaborated in some way with the suit. It seemed apparent to us as we read the complaint that a number of agenda items are built in. For one thing, Broome’s desire to remove Dabadie as the police chief could only be furthered by the city losing the case or perhaps settling it under the right circumstances, and some sort of pledge arising from the suit to permanently soften police procedures along the lines of Broome’s previous actions both look like they’re built in.

Accordingly, our expectation is that Broome will agitate to settle the suit for not only a large sum of money but also to use that settlement to create policy which her successor won’t have the ability to change. She doesn’t have any role other than a political one in that decision, though – the ball is in the Parish Attorney’s court, and the Parish Attorney doesn’t work for the mayor but rather the Metro Council.

So if there is to be a settlement in this case, or at least a quick settlement, it will be because the Parish Attorney and the Metro Council agree to it and not because Broome does.

Interestingly enough, this case was filed at the 19th Judicial District Court this morning with the plaintiffs hoping to land a friendly judge like Janice Clark or Wilson Fields, and their roll of the dice turned up snake eyes. The judge assigned to the case is Mike Caldwell, a very conservative Republican from South Baton Rouge. If there is a judge at the 19th JDC who’ll agree to dismiss the case it’s Caldwell.

The big political argument in Baton Rouge as a result of this suit will be whether it’s settled, which will be the position of the mayor, the five Democrats on the Metro Council and the North Baton Rouge political machine, or whether it’s allowed to play out a bit first to see if the city and the BRPD can win it, which will be the position of everybody else.

And that will make for an uncomfortable position for two members of the Baton Rouge Metro Council – specifically Barbara Freiburg and Trae Welch. Those are the two Republicans who voted to levy the Council on Aging tax earlier this month, which would indicate they’d be wobbly on spending the money to settle the Sterling suit.

And with the recent precedent of Mike Brown’s family catching a $1.5 million settlement from the city of Ferguson, Missouri and the family of Philando Castile settling the suit surrounding his death for $3 million, the numbers involved in a Sterling settlement could be sizable.

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