Baton Rouge Officer Who Shot Alton Sterling, Cited For Striking Suspect in 2016

Blane Salamoni

Baton Rouge police have issued a summons for simple battery to Blane Salamoni — the officer fired last month for his role in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling — accusing him of slapping a suspect during a 2016 arrest captured on body camera video.

Salamoni received the misdemeanor summons Friday afternoon, according to one of his attorneys, who said the police proceeded with the citation even though the alleged victim said he did not wish to pursue charges.

The attorney, Brant M. Mayer, questioned the timing of the case, which he said appeared to be aimed at influencing Salamoni’s termination appeal. That appeal remains pending before the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board.

“I think everybody is going to see this for what it is,” Mayer said Sunday. “Our client files his appeal, and then this charge just miraculously appears. They’ve had this footage for almost two years”

Details of the June 2016 arrest were not immediately available Sunday night, and a Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. Police Chief Murphy Paul declined to discuss the details of the summons, saying he would release more information to the public early Monday.

It’s not clear whether the Police Department intends to release footage of the arrest, which happened just weeks before Sterling was fatally shot in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge.

“There was a simple battery,” Paul said. “Our officers believed there was probable cause, they charged accordingly.”

Salamoni is apparently accused of slapping the suspect in the back of his head, said Mayer, who added he has not seen the body camera footage. The alleged victim “still had a firearm on his person and was running his mouth” when the slapping occurred, Mayer said.

“We believe that he just gave him a pop on the head and told him to calm down and hush,” he said, adding Salamoni did not recall specifics of the arrest. “It was about as bland as you can imagine.”

A law enforcement official said the footage of the arrest was first flagged by federal authorities while they were conducting a civil-rights investigation into the death of Sterling, a fatal shooting that ignited national protests. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the pending case.

As part of their civil-rights inquiry, the official said the feds reviewed Salamoni’s past interactions with criminal suspects recorded on body camera, attempting to determine whether there were any patterns of misconduct.

The U.S. Justice Department ultimately decided not to pursue charges against Salamoni or Howie Lake II, the other Baton Rouge officer involved in Sterling’s death in July 2016. Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry announced last month that neither officer would face state charges in Sterling’s death.

But body-camera footage of Sterling’s death sparked widespread criticism of Salamoni, and Paul cited those videos in his decision last month to terminate Salamoni for violating the department’s policies on use of force and command of temper.

The police chief has said Salamoni unnecessarily escalated the confrontation by immediately pointing a gun at the Sterling’s head and yelling obscenities during the attempted arrest.

Lake was suspended three days for failing to control his command of temper and also is appealing that discipline.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III recused himself from the Sterling case, citing a long professional relationship with Salamoni’s parents.