Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) is asking that the Department of Justice look into the shooting death of Alton Sterling, who was fatally shot as he lay on the ground with two Baton Rouge, La., police officers on top of him, CNN reports.
Sterling's death, the latest in the seemingly endless string of police-involved altercations, sparked protests in Louisiana and snatched national attention after graphic video of the early-Tuesday-morning incident started circulating on social media. According to CNN, Richmond hopes that an investigation will resolve "unanswered questions" raised by the incident.
"There are a number of unanswered questions surrounding Mr. Sterling's death, including questions about the initial calls for police presence, the level of force used by officers, the verbal and physical altercation, and the response of the officers after he was shot," Richmond, whose district includes Baton Rouge, said in a statement released Wednesday.
"I ask the leaders and citizens of Baton Rouge to join me in demonstrating our anger with dignity and demanding proper focus on our cause with perseverance," Richmond added. "His family and the citizens of Baton Rouge—especially the citizens of North Baton Rouge—deserve answers, and that is what we will seek in a fair, thorough and transparent way."
Sterling was killed after a confrontation outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, AP reports.
Sterling, 37, died of multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and back, the East Baton Rouge Parish coroner, Dr. William Clark, confirmed to AP, per an autopsy report.
The incident started when officers responded at the store at around 12:35 a.m. Tuesday after an anonymous caller reported that there was a man selling music CDs and wearing a red shirt threatening him with a gun, Police Cpl. L'Jean McKneely told AP.
Two officers responded to the call, leading to an altercation with Sterling, with one officer fatally shooting him. According to McKneely, both officers have been placed on administrative leave as dictated by standard department policy.
According to AP, the owner of the store, Abdul Muflahi, told WAFB-TV that the first officer used a Taser on Sterling, while the second officer tackled him. Muflahi said Sterling fought to get the second officer off him, at which point the first officer shot Sterling "four to six times."
Muflahi said that Sterling did not have a gun in his hand at the time but that he saw officers removing a weapon from Sterling's pocket after the shooting.
“His hand was nowhere [near] his pocket,” Muflahi told The Advocate. “[The officers] were really aggressive with him from the start."
McKneely told AP late Tuesday that he could not confirm Muflahi's version of what occurred or any other details about the investigation.
However, McKneely told The Advocate that officers will likely not be interviewed by investigators, since law enforcers are usually given 24 hours before being questioned after this type of incident.
“We give officers normally a day or so to go home and think about it,” he said, adding that being involved in a shooting is stressful and can produce "tunnel vision" for officers, not leading to the best information, according to The Advocate.
Both officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting, McKneely added. However, he said the cameras became loose and were dangling from the officers' uniforms during the shooting. Police recovered surveillance footage from the store and seized Muflahi's entire video system, the store owner said.
Sharida Sterling, Alton Sterling's cousin, told The Advocate that he would have "never fought the police."
"He wouldn't have pulled a gun. He would have been too scared," she added. Sharida Sterling also told The Advocate that she is skeptical about the caller who accused her cousin of pointing a gun, as well as of the report that the police body cameras became loose. She called on police to be transparent during the investigation and said that they should release the store surveillance footage.