Judge, Jury, and Executioner

Attorney General Jeff Landry began his report on the Alton Sterling shooting by whining to the assembled reporters about the U.S. Department of Justice. “Once the USDOJ took the lead role, we reached out to find out about our access to their investigation, and were told we would have no access until they were done,” Landry said. “They sidelined us.” He had further complaints, noting that even after the U.S. Attorney unveiled his report on May 3, 2017, the AG’s office wasn’t given the materials from the investigation until June 1. And then he spent nearly a full minute of his press conference bleating about the time required for “inventorying, sorting, reviewing, and analyzing” what they received. Landry then went into “play-by-play” mode, giving a detailed rundown of the events of July 5, 2016, beginning with the complaint call about a threats from a man selling CDs in front of the Triple S Store. “At approximately 12:16 a.m., Alton Sterling is seen in front of the Triple S Store apparently selling bootlegged CDs,” Landry states. Use of the term “bootlegged” is the first major indication where this report is going, and Landry doesn’t disappoint. He tells the story with a clear affinity for the officers’ point of view, emphasizing “continuous resistance” from Sterling. He even states that Sterling, who was lying on the ground with Baton Rouge Police Officer Blane Salamoni astride him, was “resisting” by rolling onto his side after Salamoni fired three shots into his chest – which justified Salamoni firing three more shots into Sterling’s back, killing him. “Officers Lake and Salamoni attempted a lawful arrest with probable cause. Alton Sterling resisted lawful commands. Their actions were reasonable and justifiable under Louisiana law,” Landry stated. But he also clearly relished revealing results from Sterling’s autopsy report, which showed he had cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana in his system. And the AG’s report makes particular note of a police report on a similar incident with Sterling, from 2009, saying “this incident mirrors what occurred on July 5, 2016, in all but the outcome.” But Landry himself mirrors the USDOJ decision in the case last year, stating, “The Louisiana Department of Justice cannot proceed with a prosecution of either officer, because the standard of proof for any criminal charge is ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’.” Landry, however, did not take the case to a grand jury, which merely requires “probable cause.” Why not do that? Here’s what he said. “Before a prosecutor can bring a case before a grand jury, he must determine whether he has sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction, upon a fair and thorough review of the evidence and applicable law. Furthermore, pursuant to the Rules of Professional Conduct, I am required to refrain from prosecuting a charge that I know is not supported by probable cause. Therefore, the State cannot bring this matter before a Grand Jury to seek a Bill of Indictment, nor can it bring any other criminal charges by Bill of Information.” In other words, Louisiana’s Attorney General has determined himself to be both judge and jury for this case. Landry left the press conference without taking any questions. State Rep. Denise Marcelle’s district includes the Triple S Store, where Sterling was killed, though she was denied admittance to the Attorney General’s office, where the press conference took place. “Words can’t describe how disappointed I am in the Attorney General for not doing his job,” she stated. “I’m saddened for this family, but also for this community. I think this community deserves better.” Fellow Baton Rouge delegation and Legislative Black Caucus members also weighed in on Landry’s decision. “I’m disappointed,” said Rep. Ted James, who is also a defense lawyer. “It’s like the U.S. Attorney and Jeff Landry reviewed two totally different cases.” “It’s basically what I expected he was going to say, though I’m extremely disappointed he waited all this time to say it,” remarked Rep. Pat Smith. “You know, legislators wrote him a letter. He didn’t respond,” Marcelle commented further. “And now the question becomes, ‘Who is he accountable to?’” He is accountable to the voters, which is exactly what Chris Stewart, attorney for the Sterling family, said. “It takes courage to hold political office. It takes courage to be a prosecutor. It takes courage to fight for justice. And we didn’t see that in this situation. He’s not seeking justice because he didn’t even take it to a grand jury. “This is a very biased report, with statements written in favor of the offending officers. “The repercussions are not getting upset, not getting violent. This was a political decision. In order to respond, we will hold you politically accountable. “The Attorney General said, ‘I don’t think we could have got a prosecution.’ But it’s not about winning a case. It’s about standing up for justice and taking action and dealing with the results. If you lose, you lose, but don’t take the easy way out. The repercussions will be you will not have this job in the future. We will vote you out.” Guillotine, anyone?
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Sue Lincoln
Sue Lincoln is a veteran and widely-respected reporter who has been covering Louisiana politics for nearly three decades. Originally from Long Beach, California, Sue’s career in journalism began on the radio in Los Angeles. After moving to Louisiana, Sue earned her bachelor’s degree. For ten years, from 2000-2010, she was the Assistant News Director at Louisiana Network. Sue also worked as the education reporter for Louisiana Public Broadcasting and has contributed to various state publications as a freelance journalist. But she is perhaps best known as the voice of the popular politics Capitol Access.