BATON ROUGE, La. — Relatives of a black man who was shot and killed during an altercation with two white Baton Rouge police officers called Monday for a swift resolution to the Justice Department’s investigation.
Three of Alton Sterling’s aunts joined dozens of protesters Monday for a raucous rally at City Hall, where a group of community leaders discussed police reforms in Baton Rouge following Sterling’s July 5 shooting.
Sandra Sterling, one of his aunts, expressed frustration with the pace of the federal investigation. She said it seems as if her nephew’s death has been overshadowed by historic flooding that damaged tens of thousands of homes in the Baton Rouge area in August.
“I’ve been keeping the peace, but it’s been 90 days now,” she said, vowing to do her part to keep the peace “just a little while longer.”
Two of Sterling’s other aunts angrily shouted at East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III as he left the City Hall meeting. Moore recused himself from any state investigation of Sterling’s death, citing his professional relationship with the parents of one of the two officers involved in the shooting.
“Y’all don’t care about Alton!” Lorna Sterling yelled at Moore. “It’s just another dead black man on the street to y’all!”
Moore didn’t respond to Sterling’s aunts in the hallway.
“There is nothing that I can say from any standpoint to alleviate their emotions,” Moore later wrote in a text message to The Associated Press. “I understand their emotions.”
Sterling, 37, was fatally shot during a scuffle with two officers outside a convenience store where he had been selling homemade CDs. The officers had responded to a caller’s complaint that Sterling had threatened the caller with a gun outside the store. Cellphone video of the deadly encounter circulated within hours of the shooting, triggering protests in Baton Rouge and beyond.
The federal investigation will look into whether the officers willfully violated Sterling’s civil rights through the use of unreasonable or excessive force. The Justice Department hasn’t indicated how long it will take to complete its investigation. Similar investigations, which often take many months to resolve, were opened following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York.
Federal investigators must meet a high legal burden to bring a civil rights prosecution, establishing that an officer knowingly used unreasonable force under the circumstances and did not simply make a mistake or use poor judgment. Many federal probes conclude without criminal charges.
Roughly 50 people attended a rally outside City Hall before they packed the meeting on police reforms. Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. was among the meeting’s participants.
During the rally, Sandra Sterling alluded to other recent deadly encounters between black men and police officers, including in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
“The same thing that happened to Alton here happens all over,” she said. “We have to do something now because tomorrow is not promised to us.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.