(Originally Posted in USA Today)
The U.S. Department of Justice is not expected to charge Louisiana police officers in last summer’s fatal shooting of a 37-year-old black man in Baton Rouge, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
Alton Sterling was selling CDs outside of a convenience store when approached by police and shot and killed last July. The struggle was captured on videotape and also ignited waves of protest and national condemnation.
The person with knowledge of the case is not authorized to comment publicly and declined to elaborate on the decision involving the two local officers.
A spokesman for the family told the Washington Post they had not yet been informed of the decision by the Justice Department.
“We have not heard nor received an update and are unaware of any charges that may or may not be filed,” said Ryan Julison, a spokesman for the Sterling family’s attorneys, told the Post. “We have not received word, nor has the family been given any notice of upcoming updates regarding this case.”
The head of the civil rights organization Color of Change said the federal agency sent a disheartening message in its decision.
“There is no way to misinterpret the message that Jeff Sessions sent today: Black lives do not matter,” Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson said in a statement regarding the U.S. attorney general. “There is no other way to read this decision from the Department of Justice, which issued no charges to the police officers who tased Alton Sterling, held him down on the ground, and shot him in the chest and back. A black man who was selling CDs was summarily executed, and the attorney General sees nothing wrong with that.”
Amnesty International USA also condemned the decision.
“Once again another family is grieving for the death of their loved one at the hands of police,” Amnesty International USA executive director Margaret Huang said in a statement. “What happened to Alton Sterling – and so many others — is a reflection of the dire need for a nationwide review of laws governing when and how police should use deadly force. Not one U.S. state complies with international standards, which is simply that deadly force can only be used when there is an imminent threat to life.”
Officers Howie Lake II and Blane Salamoni were the two officers involved in the shooting.
The Sterling case highlights the fraught nature of bringing such charges, which require the government to establish that officers acted with intent.
The standard was often cited by the Obama Justice Department in its examinations of police conduct, including the decision not to charge a Ferguson, Mo., police officer in the 2014 fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
At the time, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said: “I concur with the investigative team’s judgment and the determination about our inability to meet the required federal standard” of proof.