It’s a real page-turner, but the gist of it is that Sterling had weed, speed, coke, meth and booze in his system at the same time, among other things, when he was killed in July 2016 amid a struggle with Baton Rouge policemen Blaine Salamoni and Howie Lake. According to the report released by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry this morning upon Landry’s announcement that the state won’t be filing charges against the officers as a result of Sterling’s death, it’s quite apparent that cocktail of controlled substances probably had more to do with killing Sterling than Salamoni did.
From the report, which you can read in full here, Sterling wasn’t responsive to police demands at all and acted in a manner consistent with being blitzed out of his gourd…
Officer Lake interrupts the transaction between Sterling and the females and gives Sterling verbal commands to place his hands on the vehicle that is parked where Sterling is standing. Sterling is noticeably apprehensive. Officer Lake tells Sterling to stop twice.
Officer Lake then attempts to physically control Sterling’s hands and have Mr. Sterling place his hands on the vehicle. Officer Salamoni, who arrived as Sterling was beginning to resist Officer Lake’s commands and attempts to assist Officer Lake in gaining hand control of Sterling.
Officer Lake attempted to control Sterling’s left arm as Officer Salamoni attempted to control Sterling’s right arm while also giving Sterling verbal commands to place his hands on the car.
During this initial struggle, Sterling asks, “what I did?”, while refusing to submit to the officers request. As Sterling spins around and pulls his right arm away from Officer Salamoni, Officer Salamoni draws his firearm from the holster and tells Sterling in a stern voice “Don’t fucking move or I’ll shoot you in your fucking head”. This level of verbal control appears to work as the Officers are then able to direct Sterling to the vehicle and attempt to place him into custody.
While Officer Salamoni had his service weapon drawn, he kept it at an arm’s length from the suspect. Despite the aggressive, purposeful tone of Officer Salamoni, Sterling again began to resist as Officer Lake continues attempts to gain hand control of Sterling after he was directed to the vehicle.
After Officer Lake failed to gain hand control of Alton Sterling, Officer Salamoni takes a defensive position away from Sterling and tells Officer Lake to “taze” Sterling utilizing his Electronic Control Device.
Officer Salamoni maintained defensive cover with his handgun as Officer Lake deployed his taser to Sterling’s back. The taser appeared to work initially as Sterling momentarily fell to the ground. However, the effects did not last. Officers then order Sterling to get on the ground using strong verbal commands.
Mr. Sterling continued to be non-compliant and turned toward Officer Lake. Officer Salamoni then requested Officer Lake to administer another activation of the taser. The second activation of the taser had no effect on Sterling.
As Sterling continued to face Officer Lake, Officer Salamoni holstered his weapon and approached Sterling on his left side and aggressively tackled Sterling into a parked car in an attempt to gain control over Sterling. Both Sterling and Officer Salamoni fell to the ground and landed chest to chest with Officer Salamoni on top of Sterling.
A struggle took place as Officer Salamoni attempted to control Sterling’s right arm. Officer Lake knelt next to Sterling and attempted to control Sterling’s left arm. It should be noted that throughout this engagement, Officers Lake and Salamoni continuously attempted to gain control of Sterling’s hands while Sterling actively resists.
Officer Salamoni is then observed attempting to retrieve his own handgun from his holster and tells Sterling “if you move, I swear to God.” At this time, Officer Salomoni made several attempts to gain control of Sterling’s right hand. After failing to do so, Salamoni loudly announced to Lake that “he’s got a gun” and verbally demanded that Sterling relinquish control of his right hand. It should also be noted that Sterling was positioned in a manner which concealed the lower right half of his body, and more particularly, his right front pocket.
Officer Salamoni then drew his firearm from his holster and pointed it at Sterling. As this is happening, Officer Salamoni also yells to Officer Lake “he’s going for the gun”. Officer Salamoni then fired three times at Sterling’s chest and rolls off of him keeping his handgun pointed at Sterling.
Officer Lake appears to stand up and draw his handgun from the holster at this time and provide cover to Officer Salamoni who is lying on the ground in close proximity to Sterling.
As Sterling sits up Officer Lake yells at him to “get on the ground” Sterling appears to roll to his left, away from Officer Salamoni; and Officer Salamoni again fired shots at Sterling. It is important to note that when Sterling rolled away from Officer Salamoni his hands and his right side are concealed from Salamoni and Lake’s view. At this point, Sterling lies on the ground having been completely disabled by the officer’s shots.
Officer Lake immediately notified his dispatch of the “shots fired” and requested Emergency Medical Services for Sterling.
No reasonable person would act in the manner Sterling did. Those two cops did everything they could do to get Sterling under control, including tazing him not once but twice, and nothing worked until Salamoni finally shot him. Even after he shot Sterling three times he was still struggling, which led to him being shot three more times.
Which is not a defense of Salamoni’s conduct as a policeman. While the argument could be made that pointing a gun at Sterling’s head and screaming profane threats to his life is a tactic aimed at shocking a suspect into compliance and usually an effective one, it’s also not something we would hope for out of our police officers in Baton Rouge – and if Salamoni ends up being fired as a result of that exchange, we’ll chalk that up to BRPD chief Murphy Paul’s discretionary decision. He gets paid to make that call, and it’s a defensible one.
But the optics of the threats made to Sterling notwithstanding, the obvious explanation here is Sterling was so wasted that there was no possibility the cops could reason with him regardless of what they said or did. And it also must be remembered that the BRPD didn’t show up at the scene by happenstance. They were there because of a specific call made to 911 – namely, that Sterling had threatened a man, identified as John Young, with a revolver 30 minutes before the police arrived. So Salamoni and Lake knew that they were dealing with somebody who wasn’t just armed but had brandished a gun to someone and threatened to shoot him with it.
How else would those cops be expected to approach the situation other than one involving mortal danger?
The defense to Sterling’s drug abuse is pretty standard – “Being high doesn’t mean you should be executed for it.” Of course it doesn’t. But when your intoxication leads to you acting in a fashion which puts a policeman in a position where he reasonably believes his choice is to end up judged by 12 or carried by six, he’s going to choose the former every single time and nobody can blame him for doing so.
Which is what this case comes down to.
The next step in the Sterling case will be what Paul decides with respect to the future employment of those two officers, and then there will be a civil case the Sterling family will bring which will likely be settled quickly. Hopefully we’ll be done with the Sterling case forever after that, as the most productive lesson anyone can learn from it – namely, don’t throw your life away on drugs and crime like Sterling did – seems lost on all the people who need to learn it most.