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Chief refuses to ‘prematurely’ fire officer over shooting

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The police chief in Louisiana’s capital says it would be improper and premature for him to fire a white officer who shot and killed a black man last summer while the deadly encounter remains under criminal investigation.

Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome called on Police Chief Carl Dabadie to fire Officer Blane Salamoni, who fatally shot 37-year-old Alton Sterling during a struggle outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016. The chief responded in a letter dated May 26, urging the mayor to “let the criminal process conclude.”

“I feel that waiting for all of the evidence in this case to be gathered is the most prudent course of action I can take at this time,” the chief wrote.

Salamoni and Howie Lake II — a second officer who tried to subdue Sterling — remain on paid administrative leave.

The Justice Department announced last month that it won’t file federal charges against either officer, but Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office is investigating whether state charges are warranted.

Sterling’s relatives also have called for Salamoni and Lake to be fired. In a letter last week to the mayor and police chief, the family’s attorneys allege Salamoni violated department policies and procedures by approaching a “non-confrontational” Sterling, holding a gun to his head and threatening to shoot before the officers wrestled him to the ground.

“More importantly, Officer Salamoni’s actions directly escalated the entire interaction with Mr. Sterling, having placed in Mr. Sterling’s mind that he was going to be killed no matter what he did even if he complied,” the attorneys wrote.

In a May 25 letter to the chief, the mayor said she recognizes that both officers are entitled to “due process” and civil services protections. But she said she was “shocked and appalled” by the Justice Department’s account of Salamoni’s actions and believes they warrant his immediate firing.

The chief, however, said “pre-disciplinary” hearings for officers aren’t held before they are arrested, indicted or cleared in a criminal investigation.

Salamoni’s attorney, John McLindon, said he “100 percent” agrees with the chief’s assessment.

“This case should be treated like all other cases and follow standard procedure,” he added.

Broome, who was elected to her first term as mayor in December, said during the campaign that she planned to replace Dabadie as police chief. But the search for a new chief hasn’t started.

Sterling was selling homemade CDs outside the Triple S Food Mart just after midnight when Salamoni and Lake were dispatched to the store to investigate a report of a man with a gun. The officers wrestled Sterling to the ground after he didn’t comply with commands to put his hands on the hood of a car, the Justice Department said.

Salamoni shot Sterling three times after yelling that Sterling was reaching for a gun in his pocket, and fired three more shots into Sterling’s back when he began to sit up and move, federal investigators found. The officers retrieved a loaded revolver from Sterling’s pocket after the shooting, according to federal authorities.

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