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City council offering $4.5M settlement to family of Alton Sterling years after fatal shooting was ruled justified

BATON ROUGE, LA- On Wednesday, February 10th, the East Baton Rouge Metro Council voted to offer the family of Alton Sterling a $4.5 million settlement. The vote comes less than a month before the start of the civil trial for the family’s wrongful death lawsuit.

According to Councilwoman Chauna Banks, the settlement was passed in a 7-4 vote. Reportedly, Chauna Banks, Cleve Dunn, LaMonte Cole, Erika Green, Carolyn Coleman, Rowdy Gaudet, and Denise Amoroso voted to pass the settlement. 

Council members Brandon Noel, Aaron Moak, Dwight Hudson, and Laura Adams voted against the settlement. Councilwoman Jennifer Racca did not vote.

Baton Rouge Mayor and Metro Council President Sharon Weston Broome said in a statement:

“I am pleased our metro council was able to find a consensus and approve an offer of settlement in the Alton Sterling civil case.”

She added:

“After nearly five years, the people of Baton Rouge are finally one step closer to getting much-needed closure in this traumatic episode of our history. Now we must continue the work of building a more fair and equitable community, where every citizen is treated justly, no matter their race or ethnicity.”

It is not yet known of Sterling’s family will accept the $4.5 million, and the trial is currently scheduled to begin on March 1st. ABC news reported that back in November 2020, the Metro Council fell one vote short of approving a proposed $5 million settlement for the Sterling family.

Sterling, 37, was fatally shot by Officer Blane Salamoni on July 5, 2016, after police received a 911 call from a man who said someone had pulled a gun on him.

Officer Salamoni’s use of deadly force against Sterling was previously ruled justified by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Louisiana Attorney General. Back in 2018, Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry told reporters:

“In discussing these events, we must be mindful of what I’m describing took place very quickly.”

Landry added that Sterling was “armed with a firearm and continuously resisting” after officers attempted to lawfully arrest him. According to Landry, toxicology reports also indicated that drugs were likely a contributing factor to Sterling resisting arrest.

The state of Louisiana’s investigation came to the same conclusion that the U.S. Department of Justice had, and ruled that “both officers acted in a reasonable and justifiable manner.”

However, Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul fired Officer Salamoni within days of the announcement that the fatal shooting was justified. Paul said he came to his decision “based on the actions of the officers” in the incident.

He said:

“These actions were not minor deviations from policy, as they contributed to the outcome of the death of another human being.”

The chief alleged that Officer Salamoni violated use-of-force policies as well as policies for command of temper. Reportedly, Sterling was shot after grabbing for a gun in his pocket as officers fought to stop him from murdering them. 

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In body camera video from the second officer on scene, Officer Salamoni can be heard saying to Sterling:

“Put your hands on the car or I’m a shoot you in your (expletive) head, you understand me?”

According to The Advocate, the former police officer appealed his termination from the department and later agreed to a settlement agreement that replaced his firing with a formal resignation.

Chief Paul then apologized to the community and alleged that Salamoni should have never been hired by the police department.

He said in a statement:

“I want to apologize to the family of Alton Sterling and also to his kids. We’re sorry because he [Salamoni] should’ve never been hired.”

The chief claimed that Salamoni had a well-documented pattern of “unprofessional behavior, police violence, marginalization, polarization, and implicit bias” and that “he should have never ever wore this uniform.”

The Washington Post reported that Chief Paul said:

“Baton Rouge, we are sorry. We’re sorry for our failure to not discipline an officer who demonstrated unprofessional behavior and violated our code of conduct consistently, escalating incidents. We’re sorry, Baton Rouge.”

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A decade later, police officer fired for his alleged actions involving an off-duty cop

January 6th, 2021

CHICAGO, IL — A Chicago police officer was recently fired for his alleged involvement in allowing an off-duty officer to leave the scene of an assault over 10 years ago.

On Dec. 17, the Chicago Police Board voted to fire Officer Jason Burg in an 8-to-1 decision even though a key witness died during the decade it took for the agency to get around to holding a disciplinary hearing, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Burg is alleged to have allowed a fellow officer, Chris Gofron, to leave the scene after being suspected of assaulting two people while off duty on June 26, 2010. The incident happened over 10 years ago outside an apartment complex near O’Hare International Airport, according to Chicago Tribune.

Police Board member John O’Malley was the only one who voted against dismissing Burg. He argued there was insufficient evidence to conclude the officer did anything wrong, let alone fire him, and called it “unconscionable” that city officials took so many years to bring disciplinary charges.

Angel De La Rosa, a key witness from the 2010 incident, died before he could be called to testify in Burg’s 2020 disciplinary hearing. Still, the board was able to fire Burg, a decision that rested heavily on the officer’s credibility, according to Chicago Tribune.

The newspaper noted the board allowed into evidence a deposition given by De La Rosa before he died. The deposition was part of a federal lawsuit, which was filed by the alleged victims of the attack.

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The lawsuit against Burg and the off-duty officer ended in 2012 and resulted in a $160,000 payout to the victims, court records show. Gofron also resigned from the Chicago Police Department.

The eight board members who voted in favor of firing Burg found him guilty of violating several Chicago Police Department rules, according to Chicago Tribune’s report.

Board members also said he wrongly allowed Gofron to leave the scene of the assaults without arresting him or taking down his information. They also noted that Burg then made “false representations” to the now-defunct Independent Police Review Authority, which investigated the case.

In its 27-page written decision, the board also ruled Burg falsely indicated in a police report that the assault suspect was not known.

According to the board’s report, the 2010 incident began when Burg responded to a disturbance call involving Gofron, who attacked Heather Rzany and her then-boyfriend, Luis Cordero, as they were walking through a picnic area.

Gofron was in a truck with De La Rosa and allegedly yelled at the couple to leave. He stumbled out of the truck while holding a beer bottle, screamed at the couple, took out his badge and then retrieved his gun from inside the vehicle.

Gofron then allegedly attacked the male with the butt of his gun and chased the female and grabbed her by the neck and placed his gun in her mouth. Gofron also struck her hand.

Rzany testified that Burg allowed Gofron to leave the scene, and the board wrote that it found her to be credible and convincing:

“Her demeanor throughout her testimony was singularly serious and self-contained. She did not waiver in her recollection of what was clearly a traumatic experience for her and Mr. Cordero.”

It took two years before Rzany was able to identify Godon as the officer who assaulted her and Cordero. Rzany had to examine hundreds of officer photos before identifying her alleged attacker.

Burg testified before the board that he did not know Gofron and that the off-duty officer had left the scene before he arrived, however, the board did not find his testimony credible, writing:

“He gave an inconsistent statement about where Ms. Rzany was standing when he arrived at the scene.”

In his dissenting opinion, O’Malley wrote the scene would have been “too hectic and the environment too chaotic” for Rzany to witness Gofron showing Burg his badge, and hear Burg telling Gofron to leave.

O’Malley questioned the long delay to bring charges and how that may have impacted the case. He felt De La Rosa’s deposition left some unanswered questions and noted several officers were also on the scene with Burg.

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O’Malley noted on Dec. 17 that the incident happened almost 10½ years ago and IPRA’s investigation into the matter was “essentially completed” by February 2014, almost four years after the incident and six years before Burg’s police board hearing took place.

Chicago Tribune reported disciplinary charges were finally brought against Burg in January of 2019, but the officer was already on disability or inactive duty since 2015.

Critics of Chicago’s police disciplinary system have said major delays are unfair to both victims of police misconduct and the accused officers. Burg’s firing comes at a time when Mayor Lori Lightfoot has promised to speed up police reform and increase transparency.

On Thursday, Chicago Police Board President Ghian Foreman said in a statement that many of the cases the board hears “are five years old or older” and called the delays unacceptable:

“They undermine officers’, complainants’, and the public’s confidence in an equitable, fair, and efficient police-accountability system, which is the underpinning of safety in our communities.

“We have collected data on approximately 20 cases and one of our top priorities for the upcoming year is to use (that) data to identify trends and opportunities for improvement in each part of the disciplinary process.”

Burg’s lawyer, Tim Grace, said the amount of time that elapsed may have hurt his client because the key witness was dead and important evidence, such as surveillance video footage at the apartment complex, was no longer available:

“Case was 10 years old. Key witness is dead. It’s unfair to the victim, if you believe the victim in the case, to wait 10 years to have her justice. It’s unfair to all the parties.”

Greg Kulis, who represented Cordero and Rzany in their lawsuit, agreed it took city officials too long to serve Burg with disciplinary charges:

“I have no idea what the hell someone’s been doing. Did they all of a sudden just find his file in a corner somewhere?”

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