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Police Shooting Of Black Man Ignites Protests In Baton Rouge, La.


Yesterday morning just after midnight, two white police officers approached a black man selling CDs outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. In a car nearby, a bystander began recording a video.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: Get on the ground. Get on the ground.

SHAPIRO: The video is disturbing. The police officers wrestled the man, a heavyset 37-year-old named Alton Sterling to the ground, then one officer yells out that Sterling has a gun.


UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #2: He's got a gun - gun.

UNIDENTIFIED OFFICER #1: You [expletive] move, I swear to God.

SHAPIRO: Then gunshots and screams from bystanders. By the time an ambulance arrived, Alton Sterling was dead. This shooting has led to protests in Louisiana. And now the FBI and the Department of Justice are involved in the investigation. Bryn Stole is a reporter with The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. He's been covering the story. Thanks for joining us.

BRYN STOLE: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What other details can you fill in about what happened on Tuesday morning?

STOLE: Well, lots of it is still unclear, especially with the police turning the investigation over to the FBI. What we've heard so far is that a 911 caller apparently said that Mr. Sterling had threatened him with a gun in front of this convenience store. And then when officers showed up, they quickly ended up in a scuffle with him tasing him, tackling him to the ground and then a number of gunshots were fired.

The Baton Rouge Police Department today identified the two officers involved. They've been working for the department for three and four years. Both of them are now on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure for the department.

SHAPIRO: The police chief today would not confirm whether Sterling was armed. Do we know the answer to that question as of now?

STOLE: We don't really. My colleague, Maya Lau, spoke with the owner of that convenience store who said he witnessed the encounter and the shooting who said that he saw police pull a handgun from Mr. Sterling's pocket after the shooting was over. But he said that he never saw Mr. Sterling reach for his pocket and that the gun wasn't out during the altercation.

SHAPIRO: There were several news conferences in Louisiana today, including an emotional appearance by Alton Sterling's oldest son who cried as his mother, Quinyetta McMillon, spoke. Sterling had five children. Let's listen here.


QUINYETTA MCMILLON: He is 15 years old. He had to watch this as this was put all over the outlet...

CAMERON STERLING: I want my daddy.

MCMILLON: ...And everything that was possible to be shown.

CAMERON: I want daddy.

SHAPIRO: And, of course, she's referring there to the video of Sterling being shot. Bryn, what was the rest of that news conference like? What questions are the family and their attorney asking right now?

STOLE: Well, they're demanding additional transparency, and several people at that news conference spoke out for an independent investigation because the Baton Rouge Police Department had handled the shooting for the first 24 hours as an internal investigation.

That news conference happened just before the governor announced that the FBI and the Department of Justice would actually be taking over the investigation. The district attorney told us that that decision came after long talks between the police department and city officials overnight.

SHAPIRO: What can you tell us about body cams and their role in all of this?

STOLE: The Baton Rouge Police Department is in the midst of a pilot program that launched earlier this year to outfit one district of police officers with body cameras - the first district, which were the officers that responded to this call. They have said that apparently the two - both officers' body cameras fell off during the scuffle, and that the video shows little if anything.

Now, of course, there is the cell phone video which police have now confirmed does in fact show the shooting. And there is apparently security footage from the convenience store. It was taken by police pretty much directly after the shooting. Though, the district attorney said he had seen that before turning it over to the FBI and that it largely aligned with the depiction on the cell phone video and witness accounts.

SHAPIRO: What has been the message today from the mayor of Baton Rouge and the governor of Louisiana?

STOLE: They have urged calm. Last night there were large protests - several hundred people gathered in the streets outside of the convenience store in North Baton Rouge. They got testy at times, but they did not turn violent. And the governor and the mayor have said that people certainly have the right to peacefully protest, but urge people to remain calm and let the investigation run its course.

SHAPIRO: That's Bryn Stole of the Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper speaking with us via Skype. Thanks for joining us.

STOLE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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