By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) – A Baton Rouge police officer returned to work Thursday for the first time since his partner’s fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man whose death was caught on video and set off widespread protests nearly two years ago.
Officer Howie Lake II returned to work “with no restrictions,” said Sgt. Don Coppola, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department. Police Chief Murphy Paul announced last Friday that he was suspending Lake for three days and firing Officer Blane Salamoni, who shot and killed Sterling during a struggle outside a convenience store in July 2016
Lake helped wrestle Sterling to the ground but did not fire his weapon that night. The officers recovered a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket. As a convicted felon, Sterling could not legally carry a gun.
Sterling’s shooting death on July 5, 2016, came amid increased scrutiny of fatal encounters between police and black men. The day after Sterling’s shooting, Philando Castile was killed in Minnesota by a police officer and the aftermath streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend. Then as demonstrators in Dallas protested those police shootings, a gunman killed five police officers. And on July 17, a black military veteran shot and killed three Baton Rouge law enforcement officers.
Paul said he fired Salamoni for violating department policies on use of force and “command of temper.” He suspended Lake for violating only the latter policy.
State and federal authorities ruled out criminal charges against the two white officers, who had remained on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
Last Friday, the police department released graphic footage from the officers’ body cameras and the store’s surveillance camera.
In the body camera footage, an officer can be heard profanely shouting and insulting Sterling and at one point points a gun at his head and threatens to shoot him. Authorities have said Salamoni made that threat as he pointed his gun at Sterling.
Salamoni’s attorney, John McLindon, has said he intends to appeal the officer’s firing to a civil service board. Lake’s attorney, Kyle Kershaw, said he doesn’t know if his client will challenge the suspension he has been served, but he has less than two weeks to decide.
“I’m waiting to hear back from him on that. I put the ball in his court,” Kershaw said of Lake.
Salamoni shot Sterling six times during the struggle outside the Triple S Food Mart, where Sterling was selling homemade CDs.
Salamoni told an internal affairs investigator in September 2016 that he saw Sterling reach for and hold a gun in his pants pocket right before he shot him during their struggle on the ground.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced last Tuesday that his office isn’t charging either officer with state crimes. The Justice Department ruled out federal criminal charges in May 2017.
Police arrested nearly 200 people at protests in 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana’s capital city, after two cellphone videos of Sterling’s shooting quickly spread on social media.
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