On Tuesday, the U.S. Justice Department decided not to charge two white Baton Rouge police officers in the shooting death Alton Sterling. That same day, former North Charleston police officer, Michael Slager, also white, plead guilty to violating the civil rights of Walter Scott, the unarmed motorist he fatally shot.
It was justice for one family, injustice for another. The men, both black, were black were killed within 15 months of each other by police. Both high profile cases were caught on cellphone videos and ignited massive protests.
Acquittals for Salamoni and Lake, Guilty Plea for Slager
On July 15, 2016, video showed Sterling pinned to the ground by police, face down and unable to move while one officer shot him point blank. According to Baton Rouge police, Sterling was initially jolted with a stun gun after he didn’t comply with the officers’ commands to put his hands on the hood of a car. He was initially approached by police after a complaint that he had threatened someone with a gun outside a convenience where he sold homemade CDs.
The store’s owner has said Sterling wasn’t holding a gun during the shooting, but he saw officers remove one from his pocket afterward. Officers said they saw Sterling try to reach for it before he was shot.
Justin Bamberg, an attorney for some of Sterling’s relatives, has said the family wanted an indictment. Bamberg also represents relatives of Walter Scott, a 50 year-old, unarmed motorist who was stopped for a busted tail light, then shot in the back multiple times after getting out of his car and running away. Michael Slager, a former North Charleston police officer, falsely claimed Scott tried to harm him and he shot in self-defense. Cellphone video contradicts his statements.
Slager pleaded guilty to federal civil rights charges five months after a jury deadlocked on state murder charges against him. According to The Post & Courier, a federal judge will now determine whether Slager committed murder or a lesser crime in a separate trial date that will be scheduled in the next coming weeks.
With regard to Sterling, the Justice Department’s decision doesn’t preclude state authorities from conducting their own investigation, and pursuing their own criminal charges.