The Department of Justice and the FBI will conduct an investigation into the death of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man who was shot and killed by a Baton Rouge police officer on Tuesday, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said.
Speaking at a press conference Wednesday, Edwards said the DOJ's civil rights division and the FBI's New Orleans division would be the lead agencies investigating the officer-involved fatal shooting.
Cell phone video posted online showed Sterling being fatally shot during an altercation with two police officers who were responding to a complaint from a man who said that a black male selling music CDs threatened him with a gun.
Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie said that Sterling was armed and an "altercation ensued" between him and the two officers which resulted in his death. Dabadie called Sterling's death a "horrible tragedy" and said he was "demanding answers" about the shooting.
"Based on the footage of the video, I have very serious concerns," Gov. Edwards said. "The video is disturbing to say the least."
Sterling died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back according to preliminary findings, the East Baton Rouge coroner told BuzzFeed News.
"The FBI's New Orleans Division, the Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Louisiana have opened a civil rights investigation into the death of Alton Sterling," the DOJ said in a statement. "The Justice Department will collect all available facts and evidence and conduct a fair, thorough and impartial investigation."
The two white male officers involved in the shooting were identified as Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, the Baton Rouge Police Department said in a press briefing Wednesday. Salamoni is a four-year veteran of the force, and Lake, a three-year veteran. They were placed on paid administrative leave following the shooting. Authorities did not say which officer fired his weapon at Sterling.
Officials said that the internal affairs department will conduct its own investigation into the officers' conduct. The police chief will decide whether to terminate the officers based on recommendations from that investigation.
Family members and community leaders demanded justice in the wake of Sterling's death.
In an emotional statement Wednesday, Quinyetta McMillon, the mother of Sterling's oldest child, said that the cell phone video showed how Sterling was "killed without regard" by the police officer.
"Regardless if you knew him or not, he is not what the mass media is making him out to be," she said at a press conference organized by Sterling's family and community leaders. "This is a play to try and obscure the image of a man who simply tried to earn a living to take care of his children."
Warning, the video contains graphic images:
A male voice on the cell phone video can be heard saying, "He's got a gun."
Sterling and McMillon's 15-year-old son, Cameron, broke down in tears as his mother demanded answers from the Baton Rouge Police Department at Wednesday's press conference.
"The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended on their daddy on a daily basis," she said, as a sobbing Cameron was consoled and led away from the podium.
"As a mother I have been forced to raise a son who is going to remember what happened to his father," McMillon said. "I, for one, will not rest and will not allow him to be swept in the dirt until adequate punishment is served to all parties involved.
Community leaders called for the resignation of authorities in the wake of the police-involved shooting.
"What I'm calling for today is that the chief law enforcement officer to fire the police chief," Michael McClanahan, president of the NAACP chapter in Baton Rouge, said. "I'm also calling for the chief executive officer of this city to resign. We cannot have anybody who allows this type of action to take place." He demanded for the investigation to be handed over to the Louisiana State Police and for the two officers involved in the shooting to be arrested and charged with capital murder.
"I am not retiring. I am not resigning," chief Carl Debadie said Wednesday, adding that McClanahan's statement were made in "emotion."
Local leaders called for a peaceful protest in the wake of Sterling's death. They also called on police to release surveillance video of the shooting taken from a store outside which Sterling was killed.
Abdullah Muflahi, the store's owner, told reporters that Sterling's hand was "nowhere [near] his pocket" and that he was not holding a weapon when he was shot.
At the press conference, State Representative C. Denise Marcelle said that the police chief told her that the body cameras worn by both officers had fallen off during the struggle with Sterling. She said that the chief told her the state police would not be investigating the incident.
In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, Congressman Cedric Richmond, requested a federal investigation into the shooting to "uncover what, if any, violations were committed by the officers involved."
"The pain felt by Mr. Sterling’s family is severe and the right of his community to have significant questions answered is pressing,” Richmond said in the letter.
Sandra Sterling, the aunt who raised Sterling, said she was very disturbed when she saw the video of the shooting. "It's a horrible thing to happen to him. He didn't deserve it."
Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said she was glad the Justice Department would review the shooting and also called for better training of police officers and the end of racial profiling.
"Incidents like this one have undermined the trust between police departments and the communities they serve," Clinton said in a statement. "We need to rebuild that trust. We need to ensure justice is served."
Tasneem Nashrulla is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Tasneem Nashrulla at email@example.com.
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