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The Alton Sterling Video Could Have Been Lost Forever

CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/WBRZ
CREDIT: SCREENSHOT/WBRZ

Graphic cellphone footage of police fatally shooting Alton Sterling, a black father of five who was pinned to the ground at the time, has emerged online, sparking widespread outrage and protests.

Although both officers were wearing body cameras, the Baton Rouge Police Chief reportedly told Louisiana State Rep. Denise Marcelle (D) that they both fell off during the incident and didn’t capture any footage of the incident.

Civilian cellphone footage filmed from a nearby car shows police confronting a man in a red shirt, purported to be Sterling, and yelling at him to get on the ground. An officer tackles him, throwing him onto a car hood and then to the cement. Both officers are on on top of Sterling, who appears to be flat on the ground when one shouts “He’s got a gun.” The video then shows the other officer shooting at point-blank range; the person shooting the video reacts, shifting the video from the scene, and at least two more shots are heard.

“Thank god for the iPhone because without the iPhone they might have gotten away,” said Mike McClanahan, the president of the Baton Rouge chapter of the NAACP, at a press conference.

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FacebookEdit descriptionwww.facebook.comThe attorney for the Sterling family, Edmond Jordan, said in a press conference that one of the Baton Rouge Police Department’s first moves was to confiscate the store surveillance camera — along with its entire video system — without providing the store owner with a warrant. Police Chief Carl Dabadie also told Rep. Marcelle that there is dashboard camera footage from one of the squad cars.

“There are no criminal charges pending against anyone as far as we know,” Jordan said. “So why are they holding on to this video?”

“I don’t think the department knew that there was another video out there,” he said.

There’s been a push for more police body cameras nationwide after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, as one part of the larger discussion about racially-biased policing and the Black Lives Matter movement. Cameras are proposed to be a technological solution to curb police brutality, providing an objective record of what happened and ideally leading to less violence and more accountability.

Alton Sterling’s death, however, shows that police body cameras aren’t a magical fix. Sterling was killed by two officers wearing body cameras, yet as with other incidents, it was civilian cellphone footage instead that brought Sterling’s tragic death to public light. Without police officers acting in good faith, the technological fix, while a step forward, is far from a comprehensive solution.

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The Baton Rouge Police department issued a statement saying that officers had responded to a call about a black male in a red shirt selling CDs, who reportedly threatened the caller with a gun.

“Sterling was shot during the altercation and died at the scene,” the statement says. According to the coroner’s report, Sterling was shot multiple times in the back and chest.

Abdullah Muflahi, who owns the convenience store and witnessed the shooting, told CNN he didn’t see a prior confrontation between Sterling and anyone that night, and had talked to Sterling just five minutes before the incident. He also told The Advocate that after Sterling died, the officers appeared to be “freaking out,” and said “just leave him.”

Both officers have been placed on paid administrative leave, according to police department officials, who said it is standard department policy.

After the video surfaced online, outrage erupted and protesters gathered in Louisiana at the store where Sterling died. #AltonSterling started trending on Twitter.

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Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) also issued a statement online, calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the incident. The call was echoed by the family’s attorney, who also asked for the investigation to be taken out of the hands of the Baton Rouge Police Department — which has a long history of brutality — and handed over to the Louisiana State Police.