- MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN, Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — A police officer is appealing his suspension over a deadly confrontation with a black man whose shooting death set off widespread protests in Baton Rouge nearly two years ago.
In a petition filed last Thursday, an attorney for Office Howie Lake II asked a civil service board to rescind his three-day suspension from the Baton Rouge Police Department.
Police Chief Murphy Paul suspended Lake and fired Blane Salamoni, the officer who shot and killed Alton Sterling outside a convenience store in July 2016. Lake helped his partner wrestle Sterling to the ground but didn’t fire his gun that night.
Last week, Salamoni separately appealed his firing. Both officers’ petitions claim their discipline was excessive and “was not made in good faith.”
Lake served the suspension and returned to work earlier this month for the first time since the shooting. The officers, both of whom are white, had been on paid administrative leave.
Paul said he fired Salamoni for violating department policies on use of force and “command of temper.” He suspended Lake for violating only the latter policy.
Lake shocked Sterling twice with a stun gun before the officers wrestled the 37-year-old man to the ground in the parking lot outside the Triple S Food Mart. During the struggle on the ground, Salamoni shot Sterling six times.
Salamoni told an internal affairs investigator that he saw Sterling reach for and hold a gun in his pants pocket right before he shot him. The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket. As a convicted felon, Sterling could not legally carry a gun.
Two cellphone videos of the incident quickly spread on social media after the shooting, fueling protests at which nearly 200 people were arrested.
Body camera footage captured Salamoni screaming profanities at Sterling, pointing a gun at his head and threatening to shoot him before they tussled. Lake called Sterling a “stupid (expletive) idiot” after the shooting, the police chief said in a disciplinary letter.
Paul announced the officers’ discipline on March 30, less than a week after Louisiana’s attorney general ruled out state criminal charges in Sterling’s death. The U.S. Justice Department ruled out federal criminal charges last May.
The conclusion of the criminal investigations isn’t the end of the saga, however.
The civil service board is expected to hold hearings on the officers’ appeals. Meanwhile, Sterling’s relatives are moving forward with a lawsuit their attorneys filed in June 2017 against the city of Baton Rouge, its police department and former police chief and East Baton Rouge Parish.
On Monday, a state judge agreed to issue a preliminary default order against all of those parties because they haven’t formally responded to the family’s wrongful death lawsuit.
Brandon DeCuir, an attorney representing three of Sterling’s five children, said the default order can be removed if the city and parish file responses within seven days. DeCuir said the family lawyers’ request for a default judgment was designed to “move things along.”
Tedrick Knightshead, a lawyer representing the city and parish, said in an email Monday that the parish attorney’s office has been in “constant communication” with Sterling family lawyers and have turned over “voluminous” documents at their request.