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Amarillo Wrongful Death Attorney Offers Free Consultations: Police shootings put spotlight on DOJ

Posted on May 4, 2017 by Jesse Quackenbush, Attorney


The AP reports that “on the same day a white former patrolman in South Carolina pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges for killing a motorist, word came down that the U.S. Justice Department would not prosecute two white officers in the shooting death of a man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” and “a white suburban Dallas officer was fired after fatally shooting a 15-year-old boy as the car he was riding in was driving away.” The AP adds that “civil rights activists are watching closely for clues to how the Trump administration’s Justice Department intends to handle racially charged shootings by police,” but “drawing any conclusions about the department from those cases is risky,” and while Attorney General Sessions “has said he believes sweeping federal investigations of police departments can hurt officer morale and undermine crime-fighting, he has also promised his Justice Department will prosecute individual officers who break the law.”

The New York Times reports that “a day earlier and some 700 miles away, Michael T. Slager, a former police officer in North Charleston, S.C., pleaded guilty to a charge of willfully using excessive force to deprive Walter L. Scott of his civil rights when he shot Mr. Scott as he fled on foot in April 2015.” The two cases “have been among the most explosive in the nation’s complex and emotional debate about race and policing, and the developments in each came at a time when the country waits to see how episodes of police violence, which have spurred both rioting and peaceful protests, will be addressed by a Justice Department now headed by” Attorney General Sessions. The Times adds that “both cases were holdovers from the era of Mr. Sessions’s predecessor as attorney general, Loretta E. Lynch, and their outcomes were set in motion before Mr. Sessions was appointed by President Trump.”
Family reacts as DOJ says insufficient evidence to charge Baton Rouge officers in shooting. NBC Nightly News (5/3, story 5, 1:45, Holt, 16.61M) reported prosecutors said on Wednesday that there will be no federal civil rights charges brought against two Baton Rouge police officers responsible for the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, an announcement leading to “shock and outrage.” NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez said the “official word…was almost too much for the family of Alton Sterling to bear.” He added that Sterling’s aunt “is furious she wasn’t told” of the decision before it was leaked on Tuesday. NBC said that peaceful protesters gathered at the location of Sterling’s death overnight, though the CBS Evening News (5/3, story 4, 2:15, Pelley, 11.17M) reported, “There is not a single protester tonight.” CBS showed Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome saying, “This decision by the Justice Department to not file charges does not mean the police officers acted appropriately.”

According to ABC World News Tonight’s (5/3, story 8, 1:15, Muir, 14.63M) Steve Osunsami, prosecutors said they won’t bring charges because they can’t say for sure that Sterling wasn’t reaching for the gun in his pocket, based on video footage taken with a cellphone. However, Osunsami said, “There are many Americans who believe that no matter what the Justice Department or anybody else says, what’s happening in the police take-down outside this Baton Rouge corner store is a crime.” The Sterling family’s attorneys believe he has a strong case, and the state attorney general says he will investigate, according to ABC’s David Muir.

The Los Angeles Times reports that acting US Attorney Corey Amundson, “ending a 10-month federal investigation” into Sterling’s death, said on Wednesday, “All of the prosecutors and agents involved in this case have come to the conclusion that insufficient evidence exists to charge either officer with a federal crime.” Amundson said that “while no federal civil rights charges will be filed,” a “state investigation will follow.” The Times adds that Amundson “said investigators determined that the officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, ‘were not unreasonable,’” but “still, he said, ‘experts criticized aspects of the officers’ technique.’” Amundson “also confirmed earlier reports that Salamoni, who had been on the force for three years, shot Sterling.”

USA Today reports that Amundson “said the officers’ encounter with the 6-foot-3, more than 300-pound Sterling happened in the span of about 90 seconds. ‘Life and death decisions were being made in split seconds,’ he said.” The investigation “found that Salamoni shot Sterling three times after saying that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move, the prosecutor said.” USA adds that the case “highlights the fraught nature of bringing federal charges, which require the government to establish that officers acted with intent.”

Future of state probe unclear. The AP (5/3) reports that “a disagreement appears to be developing about who’s in charge of investigating whether state criminal charges should be filed against two white police officers who fatally shot a black man in Baton Rouge last summer.” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said on Wednesday “he’s directed the U.S. Department of Justice to forward its investigative materials to the Louisiana State Police,” but Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards “said the investigation is in Landry’s hands,” and State Police Col. Kevin Reeves “sent a letter to Landry saying the state police will help Landry’s office if the attorney general decides further evidence collection is necessary.”
The New Orleans Times-Picayune  reports that although federal prosecutors decided not to bring charges, “the state standard of proof is different,” and “people who have worked as federal prosecutors in Louisiana said Landry might have an easier time than the U.S. Justice Department in making a case against the officers.” Landry “has said he will make the final call as to whether state charges would be brought against the officer, but he wants to hand off most of the investigation to the Louisiana State Police.” The Times-Picayune adds that “the state police are not under the direction of Landry,” and that “the governor oversees their operations and would therefore be overseeing the state investigation indirectly if the state police took it over.”

Activists, Baton Rouge residents react to decision. The Huffington Post reports that “Baton Rouge residents, many of whom had swarmed the streets for days last summer in protest of Sterling’s death, had been bracing for the DOJ’s decision for months, hoping the officers would be held accountable for their actions,” but “their expectations were measured considering the little, if any, faith many have in the ability of President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to see why an indictment would be warranted in this case. ‘When Trump appointed Sessions as the Justice Department head, we knew with his history that nothing was going to change and I think it’s a shame,’ NAACP Baton Rouge Vice President Byron Sharper told HuffPost on Tuesday. ‘This country is at a point where we’re either going to make it or break it. Not just Baton Rouge, but the entire country.’”
U.S. News & World Report reports “local community members and civil rights advocates also expressed anger, sadness and disappointment,” and that “dozens of people reportedly gathered for a vigil Tuesday night outside the convenience store where Sterling had been shot. ‘We are not going to take this sitting down,’ said Raheejah Flowers, 16, according to the Associated Press. ‘Alton did not die here for us to suck it up and move on.’”

Story provided by AAJ.

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Jesse Quackenbush
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