WATCH: Baton Rouge Police Officers Won’t be Charged in Fatal Shooting of Alton Sterling

Photos of Alton Sterling, along with flowers and mementos, at a makeshift memorial in front of the Triple S Food Mart in Baton Rouge, after his death in July 2016.

Authorities in Louisiana said Tuesday that the Baton Rouge police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling will not face criminal charges, a decision announced nearly two years after his death prompted intense protests.

Sterling was killed in July 2016 by officers responding to a call about a man who had threatened someone with a gun. The Baton Rouge officers then encountered Sterling, 37, selling CDs outside of a convenience store, and fatally shot him during an encounter that lasted less than 90 seconds.

“This decision was not taken lightly,” Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry said during a news briefing Tuesday morning. He added: “I know the Sterling family is hurting. I know that they may not agree with this decision.”

The Justice Department last year decided against bringing federal charges against officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake, concluding that there was “insufficient” evidence to prove that they violated Sterling’s civil rights. Federal law sets a very high bar for civil rights charges against officers, requiring that authorities prove an officer’s intent at the time of the shooting.

Landry said the state could not proceed with a prosecution of either officer involved based on an extensive review of evidence gathered by federal authorities as well as his office’s own investigation.

During a 20-minute announcement detailing the decision, Landry said the investigation concluded that both officers “attempted to make a lawful arrest of Alton Sterling based upon probable cause.” He said the officers acted on the assumption that Sterling was armed while resisting the officers’ attempts to arrest him. After Sterling was shot, Lake found and removed a loaded .38 caliber handgun from Sterling’s right front pocket, according to Landry’s office.

Landry also said toxicology reports showed that Sterling had drugs in his system at the time of his death, which Landry linked to Sterling’s behavior during his encounter with police.

“It is reasonable that Mr. Sterling was under the influence and that contributed to his noncompliance,” said Landry, who did not take questions after announcing his decision.

Landry’s office also released a 34-page report which said Sterling’s body tested positive for opioids, cocaine and other drugs, results that “clearly indicated that he was under the influence of a combination of illegal substances.” The same report also said Sterling’s autopsy showed he had been shot six times — three times in the chest and three more times in his back — with all six bullets recovered from his body. His cause of death was deemed a homicide caused by gunshot wounds to his heart, lung, esophagus and liver.

Sterling’s death in July 2016 came at a fraught moment of racial tumult nationwide amid shootings by and of police officers. A day after Sterling’s death prompted outrage and protests, an officer in Minnesota shot and killed Philando Castile, a school cafeteria worker, during a traffic stop, the aftermath of which was streamed live on Facebook. That same week, five police officers in Dallas were gunned down by a black man upset at police, and just days later, another gunman killed three officers in Baton Rouge.

After the Justice Department said in May 2017 it would not pursue charges, Landry said he would launch a state probe into the shooting. His office took over a state investigation into whether the officers would face criminal charges after Hillar C. Moore III, the prosecutor for East Baton Rouge, recused himself from the investigation because he had a prior relationship with Salamoni’s parents, both of whom worked with the Baton Rouge police.

In explaining why it took so long for the state to announce its decision, Landry said Tuesday that his office was “effectively sidelined” during the federal probe because it was closed off to Louisiana officials.

Sterling’s relatives and their attorneys assailed the decision, noting that they would continue pressing the case through a civil lawsuit filed last year.

“The system failed us,” Sandra Sterling, his aunt, said during a news conference. “He was not a monster. … This was a family man. A family man.”

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