Warning: Video contains graphic images and profanity
BATON ROUGE, La. — Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was shot to death as he lay on the ground with two police officers on top of him Tuesday morning.
A video of the incident, which was posted to social media, has sparked national attention. Many questions remain unanswered.
The case is being investigated, and Baton Rouge police said detectives will review the video. They said it was not sent to them, but that it was first given to the media and put on social media.
The officers involved have been placed on administrative leave, as is standard following an officer-involved shooting.
The owner of the convenience store where Sterling was killed says he’s sure the incident was caught on his store’s surveillance cameras, though he hasn’t seen it. Police took the video later Tuesday, he said.
Edmond Jordan, an attorney representing Sterling’s aunt, Sandra Sterling, and the mother of Alton Sterling’s child, confirmed the individual shot in the video is Sterling. His family has seen the tape.
“[They] are taking it hard right now … overwhelmed with grief,” Jordan said.
The video is filmed from inside a car.
It starts by pointing down, with camera facing the witness’ car’s dashboard. A single pop is heard, and then you can hear someone yell “get on the ground.”
Another pop follows.
The camera then pans up to two officers confronting a man in a red shirt, which Jordan says is Sterling. One officer then brings Sterling to the ground. Once he’s down, the officer begins to assist the second officer in restraining Sterling. At this point, the officer who first brought down Sterling is behind a car and cannot be seen.
“He’s got a gun,” someone is heard saying seconds later.
The officer who is still in view of the camera can be seen drawing something from his waist — it’s not clear what the object is.
Some yelling ensues, after which two bangs can be heard. Those inside the car react, and the camera pans back down. Three more bangs can be heard, and a woman in the car starts crying.
The ‘CD man’
Sterling was known as the “CD man,” a laid-back guy who would sell tunes and DVDs outside the convenience store where he was shot, according to local media.
Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the Triple S Food Mart, said he has known Sterling for six years. He let Sterling sell CDs in front of the store. He said Sterling never got into fights.
Muflahi was there the night Sterling was killed; he says he saw the officers slam Sterling on a car.
“They told him not to move,” Muflahi said. “He was asking them what he did wrong.”
He said the officers then used a stun gun on him at least once before shooting. Both got on top of him, and one ordered him not to move. The one closest to Sterling’s legs yelled “gun,” and the shots followed.
After the shooting, as Sterling lay there, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and pulled out a gun.
When it was over, Muflahi said he heard the officers talking on the scene, saying they had been called there due to a complaint that Sterling had pulled a gun on someone.
But Muflahi said he never saw a prior confrontation between Sterling and anyone that night. And he wasn’t aware of any incident that someone would have called about.
“Just five minutes before,” Muflahi said, “he walked into the store getting something to drink, joking around, [and we were] calling each other names.”
‘We ain’t running from this’
Jordan said there will be a news conference Wednesday morning at Baton Rouge City Hall to discuss the shooting. The local chapter of the NAACP, Sandra Sterling and State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle are expected to be there.
Marcelle, who was briefed by the police chief, told WAFB the officers were wearing body cameras but the cameras fell off during the struggle and did not capture the shooting.
Jordan, the family attorney, also said he has been told the officers’ body cameras fell off in the struggle.
Rep. Cedric Richmond, who represents Baton Rouge in Congress, said in a statement that he will call on the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the incident.
“The video footage released today of the shooting of Alton Sterling by officers of the Baton Rouge Police Department was deeply troubling and has understandably evoked strong emotion and anger in our community,” Richmond said.
“I ask the leaders and citizens of Baton Rouge to join me in demonstrating our anger with dignity and demanding proper focus on our cause with perseverance. His family and the citizens of Baton Rouge — especially the citizens of North Baton Rouge –deserve answers and that is what we will seek in a fair, thorough, and transparent way.”
Protesters took to the streets in Baton Rouge near where Sterling was killed after news of his death began to spread Tuesday night. Among them were members of Sterling’s family, Jordan said.
“Pretty much everybody who knows him knows he’s a sweet person,” his sister, Mignon Chambers, told WVLA.
Of his killing, she says “It wasn’t right, and something needs to be done.”
The protests were largely peaceful, according to local media, though smoke could be seen in a handful of pictures during evening.
Some streets were shut down, a few individuals spoke and those on the scene mostly played music and chanted.
“We ain’t running from this,” one man could be heard telling the crowd. “We gonna pray first, but we gonna stand tonight. We gonna stand tomorrow. And we gonna stand as a community.”