Newell: Baton Rouge Police Chief owes no apology for Alton Sterling's death

Follow these steps and Alton Sterling would still be alive today

Newell Normand
August 02, 2019 - 5:18 pm

Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul apologized to the family of Alton Sterling for his killing at the hands of law enforcement in 2016.  My question is... why? Let me preface all this by saying, I have immense respect for Chief Paul.  We don’t always agree, but I know he’s a good man with good intentions.

Chief Paul had successfully reached a settlement agreement with former Baton Rouge police officer Blane Salamoni, who had requested reinstatement by exercising a civil service appeal.  The police department engaged in this process, because in all likelihood, Salamoni would have been reinstated. 

Two independent investigations reviewed the circumstances surrounding police contact and the altercation. In the first review conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice, the conclusion reached indicated the officers deployed less than lethal methods of control, all the while knowing Sterling had a weapon and had previously brandished the gun towards another person.  Investigators cannot prove that the shots were unconstitutional, nor that the officers were willful in their response.  Also, two additional experts opined that this shooting was not unreasonable, given the circumstances.

The second review conducted by the Louisiana Department of Justice revealed the two officers attempted to make a lawful arrest based on probable cause.  Further, based on the evidence and the facts, the Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of officer Howie Lake or officer Blane Salamoni.

So, Chief Paul has two officers cleared from any wrongdoing, yet with that knowledge, he apologizes to the Sterling family. Strange. Why? The Chief attempts to justify his actions by hanging his hat on a misdemeanor battery charge against Salamoni prior to his hiring at the Baton Rouge Police Department. It turns out the charge was dropped by the victim and refused by the District Attorney so the net effect is no charge and no case. Chief Paul then bootstraps to say that the omission of same from the application would have precluded Salamoni from employment.  

So, let’s get this straight, the ground the Chief is standing on is not the act itself - but failing to disclose a non-case of misdemeanor battery? 

It gets better.  Chief Paul’s crystal ball has revealed that had Salamoni not been hired (and here we fast forward to July 5, 2016, when another backup officer arrives to assist Officer Lake, who is having trouble handling Sterling), the series of events would have been different and Alton Sterling would be alive today. 

Am I missing something?  What kind of message are you sending your department and your community?  It seems to me the straighter line to insuring that Alton Sterling would be alive today would’ve been the following:

1.     Do not sell pirated CDs. 

2.     Do not sell pirated CDs on someone else’s property.

3.     Do not arm yourself with a weapon while selling pirated CDs.

4.     Do not pull your firearm and point that firearm at someone while threatening them and selling pirated CDs at the same time.

5.     Do not consume alcohol, amphetamines, methamphetamines, cocaine, opiates and several forms of THC while being armed and engaging in criminal behavior by threatening somebody and selling pirated CDs.

6.     When interacting with the police, simply comply with their lawful orders, especially in light of all the poor decisions you are aware of having made up to that point. 

7.     While the police are making numerous attempts to gain control of you to include the less than lethal deployment of a Taser twice, it is never too late to stop resisting.

8.     Do not attempt to retrieve your weapon while engaged in an encounter with police. 

The culture of non-compliance is alive and well here.  So explain to me, who should be apologizing to whom?

Not all police actions have nice and tidy outcomes.  However, most investigations do reveal who was in the best position for the interaction to be avoided, and for a different outcome to be achieved.

I’ve had my say.  What say you? 

Listen to Newell's opening monologue below.

Sgt. Chris Stewart, a retired BRPD officer and 24-year former Baton Rouge Union of Police President, made a call on the talk line to give some additional perspective. He did not hold back, excoriating Chief Paul for throwing his law enforcement officers under the bus, and offering a mea culpa to the out-of-town protestors that swarmed the city in the months after the shooting.

"One thing that was missed when the Chief apologized (which I thought was horrible and the most unprofessional situation I have ever witnessed, in politics or leadership), was that he apologized to the City of Baton Rouge also, not just the Sterling family, which showed just how out of touch him and his administration are... after that shooting, we worked many many hours trying to keep the City under control and keep the protests from getting out of hand. The community that he said we have 'traumatized' all these years showed up in support with water and food, and letters of confidence... and 90% of these protesters were not even from Baton Rouge or even Louisiana, they were traveling protesters looking for five minutes of fame. That's not who Baton Rouge is, and to apologize to them is the most horrific thing you can do to the morale of the Department." 

"Have you talked to some of the officers working there now and what is there morale?" Newell asked.

"Yesterday was probably the most demoralizing day of all... people are just shocked, the officers. Citizens I know that are not law enforcement have called and emailed, texted that they cannot believe he would say something like that."

Hear the entire conversation between Newell and Stewart below.

It didn't end there - another former law enforcement officer, this time a man named Joe who is a former NOPD officer, called to relay a story from his time on the force. 

"In 1979, I was on patrol with a partner. We get a call of a residential burglary, possible aggravated burglary in process. We see the individual climbing out of the window... he falls to the ground and starts running towards the street, not realizing we were there. I take cover and I order him to stop and raise his hands. He's fifteen feet away, I have my gun drawn, he turns around, lifts his shirt, reaches in his back pocket and takes out something that looks like a shiny object. I showed a tremendous amount of restraint because I had cover and took that extra split second to watch him drop a screwdriver on the ground. What the public doesn't understand is that we have a split second to decide whether or not we are going to take a life or save one, and it's not that simple!"

"It was the most difficult part of my job," Newell said, "When you sit in the comfort of your office and Monday morning quarterback these cases like that, knowing how you go from a sedentary state to an adrenaline-pumping state in a matter of seconds and you have to be hyper-focused, hyper-sensitive, and make split-second decisions. You do everything pursuant to your training, and the outcome may be ugly. We see people at their best and we see them at their absolute worst!" 

Hear the conversation between Newell and Joe below.



The Baton Rouge Union of Police released this statement today:

"On behalf of the membership of the Baton Rouge Union of Police, Local 237, we are thankful this appeal process has been resolved. We feel the settlement is in the best interests of Blane Salamoni, the Baton Rouge Police Department, and the Citizens of Baton Rouge.

We are both angered and saddened with the character assassination of Blane Salamoni, previous administrations, as well as past and present members of the Baton Rouge Police Department.

We disagree with the assertions made in the press conference pertaining to Blane Salamoni’s pre-employment process and tenure with the Baton Rouge Police Department. Here are the facts:

Blane Salamoni fully disclosed his past during his interview process, which resulted in a 7-0 unanimous decision to hire him.

Blane Salamoni finished 1 st overall in his academy class and successfully completed the FTO program.

During Blane Salamoni’s tenure as a solo officer, he never had a sustained complaint relative to force or conduct.

Officer Blaine Salamoni was recognized with a life-saving award of an African- American male citizen. Additionally, Officer Salamoni helped save the life of an armed robbery suspect by applying a tourniquet to the femoral artery after the suspect sustained a gunshot wound from the victim.

The members of the Baton Rouge Union of Police will continue to support Blaine Salamoni, his family, the members of the Baton Rouge Police Department and the law-abiding citizens in the Baton Rouge community."


 

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