The US Justice Department has opened a civil rights investigation into the police killing of a black man in Baton Rouge. The videotaped death sparked protests and calls for city officials to resign.
Federal civil rights investigators will head a probe into the fatal police shooting of Alton Sterling, a black father of five, in the Southern US state of Louisiana, the governor announced on Wednesday.
Gov. John Bel Edwards said that US Justice Department will lead the investigation to determine whether or not officers willingly violated Sterling's civil rights through excessive force.
"I have very serious concerns. The video is disturbing, to say the least," Edwards said.
Early Tuesday, an anonymous caller told police that Sterling had threatened someone with a gun outside a Baton Rouge convenience store, according to authorities.
A witness-recorded video at the scene showed two police officers tackling 37-year-old Sterling, who sold CDs in front of the store, and pinning him to the ground. One officer yelled, "He's got a gun! Gun!" Then multiple shots were fired directly into Sterling's chest at point-blank range.
Shooting footage retrieved
Baton Rouge's police chief Carl Dabadie Jr. said that Sterling was, indeed armed, but many questions remained about the shooting.
"Like you, there is a lot that we do not understand. And at this point, like you, I am demanding answers."
Chief Dabadie also confirmed that the two officers involved in the shooting were white and that they are on administrative leave.
Baton Rouge police said they recovered dashboard-cam video, body-cam video and store surveillance video of the shooting, adding that the audio and video will be turned over the Justice Department.
However, the body-cam footage may not prove very conclusive as the cameras were dislodged during the altercation, police said.
The shooting sparked local protests, while community leaders and Sterling's family demanded that city officials step down.
"Mr. Sterling was not reaching for a weapon. He looks like a man that was actually fighting for his life," said Louisiana state Rep. Edmond Jordan, an attorney for Sterling's family.
The mother of the victim's 15-year-old son, Quinyetta McMillon, described Sterling as "a man who simply tried to earn a living to take care of his children."
"The individuals involved in his murder took away a man with children who depended upon their daddy on a daily basis," she said at an emotional press conference. During McMillon's statement, her teen son broke down in tears and was led away.
The head of Baton Rouge's NAACP, a civil rights group, called for the resignations of both the police chief and the mayor.
"What we are going to do today is rule out the one percent of bad police officers that go around becoming the judge, the jury, the executioner of people period but more specifically, innocent black lives," said Michael McClanahan.
The bystander-filmed video of the shooting has gone viral on social media. The memorial hashtag #AltonSterling was trending number one on Twitter in the US on Wednesday.
In 2014, a white police officer killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, prompting a national outcry known as the "Black Lives Matter" movement. Earlier this year, the US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against the city after the city council voted to revise an agreement to improve civil rights.
rs/kms (AP, AFP, dpa)