A Baton Rouge city council has rejected a $5 million settlement offer by the family of Alton Sterling — a Black man who was shot and killed during a struggle with two police officers in 2016, according to reports.
Because of the decision, a civil rights lawsuit will likely go to trial in March 2021.
Attorneys representing Sterling’s children said Thursday they were surprised by the ruling of the East Baton Rouge Metro Council, whose 12 members failed to secure the seven votes needed to approve the civil claim.
After a Wednesday hearing on the matter, six council members voted yes, five voted no and one abstained, according to The Associated Press.
“It was perfectly clear that the city council had no clue what is going on in this case,” attorney Chris Stewart said at a news conference. “It was clear they were not informed about anything going on in this case, and that puts the city at risk. The misinformation that was given lay in the hands of the parish attorney.”
“When a jury actually hears all the horrific things, not just what Officer [Blane] Salamoni did, which the video backed up, but what supervisors and superiors did to allow him to remain on the force, that jury verdict could easily be $100 million,” Stewart added.
Sterling was shot to death in a struggle with police outside a Baton Rouge convenience store on July 5, 2016. The 37-year-old had been selling homemade CDs outside the business when he was confronted by officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake II.
A struggle ensued, and both officers wrestled Sterling to the ground. Moments later, Salamoni opened fire and Sterling was killed, according to the AP.
Reports said Lake did not discharge his service weapon.
Bystanders who witnessed the shooting recorded cellphone video that quickly spread on social media, leading to protests in which nearly 200 were arrested.
Sterling’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit the following year that named the city along with the police department, former police chief and the two officers involved.
The legal action claims Baton Rouge police engaged in a pattern of racism and excessive force, and that poor training and inadequate police procedures in particular contributed to Sterling’s death.
The city attorney for East Baton Rouge Parish and lawyers for Sterling’s family met with a mediator on Oct. 3, 2019, and both parties agreed on the proposed $5 million figure.
Stewart and Sterling’s other attorneys accused Parish Attorney Andy Dotson of failing to provide council members with appropriate legal advice or information related to the case.
Attorneys said the family would have considered the $5 million judgment if it had passed, but they were shocked at how little “accurate” information the council members had as they considered the measure.
“If you would have heard the council last night, you would’ve thought they were never part of those conversations,” said attorney Mike Adams.
Dotson told The Advocate he couldn’t comment on pending litigation and noted his door is always open to council members.
“We have been, and always will be, available for our Metro Council members to discuss any pending litigation in our office,” Dotson said.
— Information provided by The Associated Press was used to supplement this report.