The US justice department has declined to bring charges against the white police officers involved in the 2016 fatal shooting of Alton Sterling, a black man in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to multiple reports.
The 37-year-old was killed last July after two officers wrestled him to the ground and opened fire from close range in an incident that caught on video by eyewitnesses. The case was referred quickly to federal civil rights investigators after calls from Sterling’s family and unrest on the streets of Baton Rouge.
Sterling’s death came the day before the fatal police shooting of Philando Castile, a black man in Minnesota, and the same week that five officers in Dallas, Texas, were gunned down in a targeted killing carried out during a protest to mark the deaths of the two men. The officer who shot dead Castile has since been charged with manslaughter.
Both the New York Times and the Washington Post quoted anonymous justice department officials confirming that no charges would brought in the Sterling case. The justice department did not respond to a request for confirmation.
L Chris Stewart and Justin Bamberg, attorneys for the Sterling family said they had not been informed by the department of “any decision or announcement”.
“We have been promised that we will meet in person with DoJ before any announcement is made,” the statement said.
Both attorneys also represent the family of 50-year-old Walter Scott, who was shot dead by a white police officer in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April 2015. Earlier on Tuesday, Michael Slager, the former officer responsible, pleaded guilty to violating Scott’s civil rights at a federal court hearing and now faces up to life in prison.
If confirmed, the decision in the Sterling case will mark the first such announcement made by the justice department under the Trump administration and has already been interpreted by activists as a step backwards under new attorney general Jeff Sessions, a staunch supporter of law enforcement.
“There is no way to misinterpret the message that Jeff Sessions sent today: black lives do not matter,” said Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change, a racial justice activist group. “There is no other way to read this decision from the Department of Justice, which issued no charges to the police officers who tased Alton Sterling, held him down on the ground, and shot him in the chest and back.
“A black man who was selling CDs was summarily executed, and the attorney general sees nothing wrong with that.”
Sessions has also pledged to review all of the department’s court enforced agreements, or consent decrees, with local police departments, many of which were enforced after controversial police killings involving African American men.