Fault Lines
13 October 2017

Alton Sterling: The Problem With Instant Condemnation

July 7, 2016 (Fault Lines) — There are a few things that we know for sure. Alton Sterling is dead. Two Baton Rogue, Louisiana police officers, Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II, shot him. The Department of Justice is going to investigate the shooting. The NAACP wants both the mayor and police chief to resign. The governor is involved. And most importantly of all, the internet is pretty much uniform in its condemnation of the two officers.

Based on the initial viewing of the first video, which is limited to one angle, I’m going to give the officers the benefit of the doubt. Those calling for the heads of the officers, or anyone else at this point are just wrong. Period.

I’ve pretty consistently called for police to be accountable when they step out of line, when someone is killed, when there has been apparent police misconduct, when there needs to be an outside police investigation.[1] I’ve also been consistent when the initial rush to hang the officers involved is wrong. That’s what is happening here.

The facts are fairly clear. An anonymous caller said that a black man in a red shirt, who was selling CDs, pulled a gun on him. Police pull up, see a black man in a red shirt selling CDs. There’s a fight, and Sterling ended up dead. Plus, there is cellphone video. And Sterling is a nice guy with five children. He lived in a Christian transitional shelter. He was an all-around nice guy, to hear his friends and family tell the story. He cooked for his friends. He sold CDs. Hell, he probably sang Kumbyla with the choir.

He was also a two-time convicted felon. He was currently on probation and was not allowed to carry a firearm. Let’s talk about this for a few minutes. Alton was convicted in 2000 for a sex offense with a juvenile and did four years in prison. He was later convicted of possessing a firearm while committing a drug crime (selling marijuana) and was sent away for five more years. Now he was about to be caught committing another felony, by being a felon in possession of a firearm, and would be facing 10 to 20 years on that charge. As a three-time loser, he would be looking at double that, 20 to 40 years, and if they could show that he had threatened someone with the gun, he was looking at life without parole.

He wouldn’t care too much for that, plus, with a child victim for his sex crime, he would not be looking at an easy time in jail. It could very well have motivated him not to cooperate with Officers Salamoni and Lake. We know that he wouldn’t follow their instructions. We know that the taser had no effect on him.

So the officers took him to the ground. One of the officers pinned Sterling’s left arm under his knee, but Sterling’s right arm is by his side, closest to the car, and not under control. You can see that in both the original video that was released, and in the cellphone video from the store owner. In the second video, you can clearly see that the officer closest to the car is struggling with Sterling’s right arm, in the vicinity of Sterling’s pants pocket.

Towards the end of the video, after Sterling was shot, you see an officer remove the pistol from that pocket. Despite the statements of the New York Daily News, the video does not show that Sterling did not pull his gun or that he was not trying to get to his gun. Then you have the statements that the storeowner has publicly made that Sterling’s arm was down by his side and the officer was trying to control it.

One member of the bar here in Texas commented about the pause between shots two and three. That pause is taught to officers, although it’s not the best practice anymore. We used to teach fire two shots, then assess, and then fire again if necessary to stop the threat. Here you have the warning, “He’s got a gun,” you see the officer on the left draw, but he doesn’t fire immediately. You also hear “if you f***ing move, I swear to God” and then two shots. Then there is a pause, followed by three shots. Sterling weighed over 300 pounds and being shot does not instantly stop someone who is fighting or struggling.

Everyone also seems to be pointing out that the officer took the gun out of Sterling’s pocket. So what? Exactly how did the officer know to pull a pistol out of that pocket, mere seconds after Sterling was shot? Could it be because they were desperately trying to keep Sterling from gaining control of the gun where he could draw it and use it?

The officers were responding to a “man with a gun” call, that described Sterling, and he was not cooperating with them. He did not react to being tazed. Then, when on the ground, one of the officers spots the gun and announces it, and Sterling does not surrender, does not comply, and does not give up.

Sterling2

Officer 1 midway through drawing gun, officer 2 has hand on wrist of Sterling. It had been at shoulder height but was now being forced back down towards Sterling’s waist again.

The officers do not have to wait for Sterling to get control of the firearm to take action. The officers do not have to be shot first, or even fired at by Sterling. They don’t have to let him have the advantage.

It’s not pretty, but then again, the use of force, especially deadly force, never is. It does appear to be justifiable force, however, based on the two angles seen so far and the statements made by the storeowner. There may be a store surveillance video, or for that matter, other cellphone video.

At this point, we need to see what happens in the investigation. And lawyers, people who should know better than to jump on a bandwagon without all the evidence, should be calming people down, not calling for a lynch mob.

[1] And to be clear, this is an officer-involved shooting and fatality, and as such, should be investigate by an outside agency such as the Louisiana State Police, Bureau of Investigations.

31 Comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

*

*

By submitting a comment here you grant this site a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution.

  • Liz W
    7 July 2016 at 1:30 pm - Reply

    Thank you for reminding me why I don’t read anything written by cops or ex-cops. Currently writing a script to filter your posts out. See you never.🖕

    • Greg Prickett
      7 July 2016 at 2:18 pm - Reply

      Don’t let the door hit you in the rear on your way out.

  • Brad
    7 July 2016 at 2:03 pm - Reply

    I agree with what you said, although they should release the 911 call right away if there really was one, to show that there really was one.

    • Greg Prickett
      7 July 2016 at 2:20 pm - Reply

      I tend to agree, but they will not do that, nor will they release the store’s video or the body cam video until they have a firm grasp on the case.

      If the FBI gets it, don’t hold your breath for it being released for at least 6 months.

      • Brad
        7 July 2016 at 3:05 pm - Reply

        at least in many cases, the 911 call comes out quick. for example, in the Pulse nightclub shootings, transcripts of the 911 calls were released fairly quickly and long before the FBI investigation will be complete. That is just one example off the top of my head. There are many, many, many more cases of 911 tapes being released very quickly.

        to me, not releasing the calls is a sign that audio is being fabricated, or, a sign that it will be “announced” (very quietly) later (after the attention of journalists and bloggers has faded) that the 911 call never happened.

  • Ryan
    7 July 2016 at 3:31 pm - Reply

    I know you have written in the past about the issue of deescalation, but do you think that is something that could or should have been employed here before the officers tackled him? Or does the perceived involvement of a gun cause the officers to want to control the situation as soon as possible, using force (non lethal) if needed, even if no gun is currently present?

    The longest video available (that I have seen) starts right before the taser is implemented, so not sure exactly how long the officers had been engaging him prior to that instance. However, if Alton Sterling was not compliant with the officers commands, were there other methods you would have tried when you were an officer before the taser or taking him to the ground? Per your past writings, you offer a more nuanced take on many of these situations based on your experiences, especially in light of current police training tactics and the first rule of police.

    • Greg Prickett
      7 July 2016 at 8:56 pm - Reply

      I never carried a taser, didn’t care too much for them. Other than a taser, the only option I would consider would be a beanbag round from a less-lethal shotgun. But that would probably take awhile to get there, and the officers may not have felt the wait was reasonable. Especially after their taser did not work.

  • Tommy Gilley
    7 July 2016 at 4:53 pm - Reply

    1) In what scenario can you arm move where it isn’t ‘in the vicinity of your pants pocket?

    2) Two police officers subduing a suspect that have substantial locks on his arms such that a ‘resisting’ subject can be aimed at with a using a weak wrist firearm hold is suddenly a deadly threat because someone yells ‘gun’. Also, how smart is it to fire into a subject laying on the ground as he is? Granted it’s an execution style shot into a prone and limited mobility subject, but a clean round through the body could come back off that ground into one of those policemen.

    3) Law enforcement is going to comply themselves into a real war on cops (go ask a late 60’s law enforcement office about what a real war on cops looks like). History has shown time and again the Law cannot ensure compliance with respect, and each one of these events chips away at societies respect for law enforcement across cultures, no matter what Graham v. Conner says

    • Greg Prickett
      7 July 2016 at 6:05 pm - Reply

      Tommy, as to question 1, you can put your hand at your shoulder, or chest. Just before the screenshot pictured in the article, Sterling’s hand is near his shoulder but he is forcing it down towards his pocket, and the officer is telling him to not move. This is a guy that has enough strength to push officer 2 off of him towards officer 1, until officer 2 is on the ground past Sterling’s head. Second, the officers did not have a substantial lock on both arms, the only arm that was under control was the left arm. Finally, it is better to shoot Sterling than to let him access his gun and shoot you. I would take the chance of a round coming back if I were in the officers position.

      • Tommy Gilley
        7 July 2016 at 6:40 pm - Reply

        So you feel this was a measured and appropriate response to situation as presented (not as to how it might develop), and you would feel comfortable with these guys policing your neighborhood?

        • Greg Prickett
          7 July 2016 at 8:54 pm - Reply

          I would not have a problem with the officers in my neighborhood. Think about it for a second. They had an anonymous call of a man in a red shirt with a gun, selling CDs. They show up, they are not pointing patrol rifles at the guy, they try to get him to go to the ground so everyone is kept safe, and he refuses.

          So they try to taze him and nothing happens. They still don’t go to their guns. They take him to the ground to try and control him. It’s only then that one of the officers determines that there is, in fact a gun, and announces it. Only then do the officers draw their own guns.

          So yeah, I think it was measured and appropriate.

  • Tommy Gilley
    7 July 2016 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    History has shown time and again the Law cannot ensure compliance without respect, and each one of these events chips away at societies respect for law enforcement across cultures, no matter what Graham v. Conner says

    • Ben D.
      7 July 2016 at 10:26 pm - Reply

      So we should view all decisions through the lens of 20/20 hindsight? The decision of Graham v. Connor is rooted both in the sentiment that officers shall use reasonableness in their use of force as well as the understanding that reasonableness is determined by the totality of circumstance.

      Mr. Prickett has identified the totality very clearly. A man was described as being armed and dangerous and upon their arrival, a man matching the very unique description presented himself as non-compliant and confrontational. We utilize a use of force “ladder” if you will. Verbal commands were ignored, knowing the risk, they went to weapon strategies, the weapon strategies (taser) failed, and rather than utilize batons to beat him (which may have been my next choice) they went to weaponless strategies and went hands on. He continued to be non-compliant.

      Had the officers’ hands on tactic been more effective (this is not criticism, dynamic situations often see standard tactics fail with larger suspects) then perhaps his hand doesn’t go to his waste band. But the officers see a gun, they react, and as stated above, a suspect is not owed the ability to aim his weapon at an officer before deadly force is warranted.

      I’d like to see the entire video as well, but to say that respect was not granted in this case is not accurate. If anything, hindsight demonstrates that the motive to fight police was more prevalent than these officers could have known during the struggle.

  • Ridge
    8 July 2016 at 6:01 am - Reply

    The police need to be investigated by an outside investigation agency that has NO ties to Law Enforcement. I realize that’s a high hurdle, but to many times I have seen the Blue Wall stand up and cover up. Any police involved shooting should be investigated, but not by other police.

  • Mr. Crispy
    8 July 2016 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    Yet another apologist for the racist police state. I’m sure you don’t see it that way — and that’s the problem in a nutshell.

    • Greg Prickett
      8 July 2016 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      Damn.

      I wish I had known that ahead of time, I could have written an article that would have fit in perfectly with the GroupThink and the HiveMind.

      You have to let me know this stuff in advance…

  • Dezi
    8 July 2016 at 5:28 pm - Reply

    Thank you for this information. Most times we do not hear this much detail and we jump to conclusions before most of the facts or information is released.

  • rojas
    9 July 2016 at 8:56 am - Reply

    Three months after his 21st birthday he was convicted of statutory rape. The statute in Louisiana at that time defined this as an act between a seventeen year old and younger and a nineteen year old and older.

    Potentially, Mr. Sterling was a year and one day older than the “child victim for his sex crime”. I don’t know much about prison culture but in my circle that felony wouldn’t disqualify him for consideration for employment.

    It’s also not clear that getting caught selling pot even with the firearm enhancement goes to the propensity to commit capital murder.

    However, you point is valid that the stakes he faced upon arrest were incredibly high.

    • Drew
      9 July 2016 at 11:59 am - Reply

      Unfortunately, him being 21 during the rape charge doesnt fit the criminal narrative, and much of his arrests were for BS charges. But he leaves too much material for the press to sensationalize and rationalize the shooting. Then he resisted arrest, and had a gun in his pocket. I dont know how the carry laws work in LA though. I would still like to see if they spoke to him first or just jumped him. He was probably on edge soon as they showed up. I would like to see an article on a guy with no criminal record like Castille though.

      • rojas
        9 July 2016 at 5:45 pm - Reply

        He had just turned 21 at conviction. Perhaps he did sixty days and plead or maybe he bonded out and spent a couple years sparing before they got serious about a trial date. Nonetheless, I doubt a kid or very young man with a conviction of statutory rape is considered a significant character deficiency by those housed in the LA prison system.

    • Amber
      12 July 2016 at 8:58 am - Reply

      From the reports that I have read the victim that he raped and got pregnant was 14 and he was 20. That girl was a child, not someone who was a year and a day younger than then him.

  • SimplySadie
    9 July 2016 at 11:24 am - Reply

    Great article. Love your responses below as well. Very insightful. Perfect reponses to the trolls as well. Kudos.

    • Greg Prickett
      9 July 2016 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      Thank you.

  • Not Even For One Day, And Why Fault Lines Is Needed | Simple Justice
    9 July 2016 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    […] Fault Lines, Greg Prickett wrote an analysis of the killing of Alton Sterling from the cop perspective.  The appreciation of […]

  • The Message Of Arresting @Deray In Baton Rouge | Simple Justice
    10 July 2016 at 7:15 am - Reply

    […] where Alton Sterling was killed by two police officers.  In a court of law, the killing will likely pass muster under the reasonably scared cop rule. The law gives cops every benefit of the doubt. The court of […]

  • The Message Of Arresting @Deray In Baton Rouge
    10 July 2016 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    […] where Alton Sterling was killed by two police officers.  In a court of law, the killing will likely pass muster under the reasonably scared cop rule. The law gives cops every benefit of the doubt. The court of […]

  • A Moment of Silence for the NRA
    12 July 2016 at 8:36 am - Reply

    […] sort to outrage any Second Amendment advocate. Unlike Alton Sterling, a felonious sex offender who may have been reaching for the illegal gun in his pocket when he was shot, Castile was pristine, a golden boy. He’d never been convicted of (or even […]

  • NYPD’s Wayne Isaacs: Road Rage, Self Defense and The Off-Duty Cop
    14 July 2016 at 9:40 am - Reply

    […] Greg Prickett points out in the Alton Sterling case, officers responded to a “man with gun” call, perhaps heightening the officers’ fear of the situation and concern over their own […]

  • Post Debate Discussion: Police, #BLM, and Militarization
    20 July 2016 at 4:32 pm - Reply

    […] wrongdoers. Be a lot more transparent. That’s not going to help in cases like Rice, Brown, or Sterling, where the police were justified, but it will help immensely to prosecute officers for deaths like […]

  • The Persecution of Cathars and Cops
    5 August 2016 at 9:42 am - Reply

    […] each new report of a cop shooting a black person, or a black person shooting a cop, we head off to do battle for our side, confident in the rightness […]

  • Austin PO Armando Perez Gets Off The Second Shot
    28 February 2017 at 8:27 am - Reply

    […] job to survive in a clear case of self-defense. I would like you to compare this with the Alton Sterling shooting in Baton Rogue, […]