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Officer fired over Alton Sterling incident files appeal with local civil service board


Grace Toohey
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

Blane Salamoni, the Baton Rouge police officer fired two weeks ago for his conduct during the 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, has appealed that disciplinary decision.

Salamoni’s lawyer, John McLindon, said Friday he filed the appeal with the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, the oversight body designed to review such personnel matters within the Police Department.

Salamoni, the officer who fired the shots that killed Sterling, was terminated after Police Chief Murphy Paul said he found the officer violated department policies on use of force and command of temper.

The five-person board — made up of three civilians and one representative from both the police and fire departments — will hold a public hearing in the coming months reviewing Salamoni’s termination — with the power to either uphold, reverse or reduce the firing. Both sides will have the opportunity to present their case to the board, presenting experts, witnesses and pertinent documents, very similar to a trial in court.

Salamoni and officer Howie Lake II responded to a 911 call on July 5, 2016, about a man selling CDs outside a convenience store on North Foster Drive who had threatened someone with a gun. After a brief struggle between the two white officers and Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, Salamoni fired six shots, killing Sterling. Two cellphone videos that captured portions of the shooting were widely shared on social media, prompting nationwide protests in 2016.

Lake, who did not fire his service weapon during the encounter, was suspended for three days for violating the department’s command of temper policy, Paul said.

As Paul announced the end of his administrative review of the shooting March 30, the department also released three graphic videos showing the incident in its entirety, including the body cameras from Salamoni and Lake and the Triple S convenience store’s surveillance footage.

The videos show, as Sterling’s family attorneys similarly described in May following a meeting with federal prosecutors, Salamoni putting his weapon to Sterling’s head upon his arrival to the scene, giving a profanity-filled threat that he will shoot Sterling if he does not comply.

Salamoni and Lake then attempt, unsuccessfully, to stun Sterling with a stun gun. With Sterling able to return to his feet, Salamoni tackles the man, and the two officers attempt to control his two arms. Seconds later, videos show Salamoni saying, “He’s got a gun,” before he fires three times into Sterling’s chest. When Sterling moves, he fires three more times.

While use of force experts called the shooting justified, they also noted they found that some of Salamoni’s actions problematic and potentially escalating.

Those experts were cited by both the U.S. Department of Justice and the Louisiana Attorney General in their review of the case.

In May, federal prosecutors announced they would not file federal civil rights charges against the two officers. After their 10-month probe into the case, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry reviewed the case for state criminal charges, but declined to file such charges at the end of March after another 10-month investigation by the state.

Police Department leadership delayed their internal disciplinary decision until the end of the criminal investigations into the officers’ actions, which they said was their protocol to ensure due process.

Paul called Salamoni and Lake’s interactions with Sterling “the same incident with two different responses,” at a March 30 public announcement about the department’s internal disciplinary decision against the two officers.

“One officer attempted to use de-escalation and disengagement techniques consistent with policy and procedure and training, and one officer did not follow the tactics training, professionalism and organizational standards,” Paul said.

While Salamoni declined to answer questions during a disciplinary hearing before Paul and other department leaders during the week leading up to the March 30 announcement, and has not publicly addressed the shooting, he gave an exhaustive defense of his actions during a compelled statement in 2016.

Salamoni credited God with saving his life, claiming Sterling had “100 percent” pointed a .38-caliber revolver at him while the two were wrestling on the ground, according to Baton Rouge Police Department internal affairs documents released Friday following a public records request. The released videos do not show Sterling pointing a weapon, but both the officers’ body cameras came loose during the heated struggle.

Salamoni said he used repeated profanity during and even after the encounter in part because he was “so mad at Sterling for making him kill him,” the report says.

“Officer Salamoni stated that if Sterling killed Officer Lake, ‘me and Sterling would get in a gun battle and Sterling may kill all of the civilians behind him,'” the report says. “Officer Salamoni stated that he and Officer Lake knew that it was a high probability that Sterling had a weapon in his pants, so they were scared.”

The civil service board has not released when it will hear the appeal from Salamoni.


©2018 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

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