Family of man who was shot to death by a police officer is seeking to settle for at least half of their original proposal.
Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old Black man, was killed by Baton Rouge Police in front of the Triple S Food Mart in 2016. Earlier this year, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council rejected a $5 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by Sterling’s family. Now, attorneys are hoping to settle for half of what was originally proposed – $2.5 million.
Sterling was fatally shot by a White Baton Rouge police officer outside the convenience store on July 5, 2016. The incident started after a 911 caller reported a man wearing a red T-shirt was selling CDs outside the store and was armed. Two responding officers approached Sterling in the parking lot and tried to “subdue” him, according to the Department of Justice’s report. Officer Blane Salamoni then fired at Sterling in response to allegedly seeing him reach for his weapon. Two phone videos were recorded by passersby and, according to court documents, they contain graphic footage of the events. The videos were released publicly and went viral online, leading to widespread protests.
In 2017, the family filed a lawsuit claiming the incident was racially motivated and demonstrated the use excessive force among Baton Rouge police officers. Court paperwork alleged Salamoni violated Sterling’s constitutional rights.
The Department of Justice, however, refused to bring charges, citing, “After extensive investigation into this tragic event, career Justice Department prosecutors have concluded that the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Officers Salamoni and Lake willfully violated Sterling’s civil rights. Given the totality of the circumstances – that the officers had been fighting with Sterling and had attempted less-than-lethal methods of control; that they knew Sterling had a weapon; that Sterling had reportedly brandished a gun at another person; and that Sterling was much larger and stronger than either officer – the Department cannot prove either that the shots were unconstitutional or that they were willful.”
Republican Judge William Morvant recently denied a motion for summary judgement and a trial date has tentatively been set for March 2021. If the $2.5 million offer is accepted, it will be divided among Sterling’s five children pending Morvant’s consent, as they are still minors.
The Sterling family’s attorney Brandon DeCuir said of the original settlement proposal, “With the amount of money I’ve spent in the last couple of weeks, the number they’re tossing around probably isn’t going to get it done.” Since that statement, however, a gag order has been put into place by Morvant, so DeCuir cannot share his feelings about cutting the amount in half.
Some council members believe a trial is the best way to lay out to the public full details of that day and all of the evidence in the case, particularly after the DOJ refused to get involved. The city’s attorneys previously said they would prefer a settlement, although they indicated $5 million was “excessive.” At least six current Metro Council seats will turn over in January, two months prior to the trial date, so it’s difficult to determine whether or not it’s best to wait it out.