The police officers who fatally shot a black man last year during a video recorded struggle outside a Louisiana convenience store will not face federal criminal charges, the Department of Justice announced Wednesday.
In a statement, the Justice Department said it found "insufficient evidence" to support charges against the two white officers who shot Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge in July. The statement calls the shooting a "tragic event" but added that federal attorneys could not "prove beyond a reasonable doubt" that the officers "willfully violated Sterling’s civil rights."
News of the decision not to charge the officers leaked Tuesday, at which time attorneys representing Sterling's family said in a statement that the Justice Department had not notified them of the decision not to charge the officers.
"We have been promised that we will meet in person with DOJ before any announcement is made," the attorneys said.
The shooting happened on July 5 after officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II responded to a 911 call about a man brandishing a gun and threatening someone in the parking lot of the Triple S Food Mart. When officers arrived, they found Sterling, 37, who had been selling CDs in the parking lot.
The officers ordered Sterling to put his hands on the hood of a car, according to the Justice Department's statement. He initially refused and a struggle ensued, at which point Salamoni drew his gun and pointed it at Sterling's head. Sterling then placed his hands on the hood of the car. When he tried to move his hands, Lake used a taser against him.
Eventually all three men ended up struggling on the ground.
In video of the altercation, the two officers can be seen pinning Sterling. At one point, one of the officers can be heard yelling "he's got a gun." Seconds later, a series of shots are heard.
According to a police report, the officers saw a gun in Sterling's pocket during the altercation. In the video, one of the officers can be seen removing an object from Sterling's pocket.
A total of six shots were fired and the entire altercation lasted less than 90 seconds, the Justice Department said.
Sterling's death prompted days of protests. Less than two weeks later, a gunman killed three Baton Rouge police officers. The gunman, 29-year-old Gavin Long, was killed in a shootout with other officers.
The incident also came a day before the killing of Philando Castile in Minnesota. Both incidents reinvigorated nationwide calls for police reform.
Though Salamoni and Lake will not face federal charges, there could still be other repercussions. The Baton Rouge Police Department is conducing an internal affairs investigation, which is pending until the federal inquiry wraps up, police spokesman Don Coppola, Jr, told BuzzFeed News.
Coppola added that both officers remain on administrative leave.
The Justice Department will now turn over the case to Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who will have the option of filing state charges.
Jim Dalrymple is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
Contact Jim Dalrymple II at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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