Louisiana cops shot and killed a 37-year-old man selling music outside a Baton Rouge convenience store following an altercation early Tuesday spurred by an anonymous caller claiming the shooting victim was armed.
The police gunfire sparked impassioned protests outside the store hours after authorities shot Alton Sterling during a fatal encounter at around 12:35 a.m., especially after cell phone video of the brutal killing surfaced.
A witness captured 48 seconds of the killing outside Triple S. Food Mart that culminates in an officer aiming his duty gun inches from Sterling’s body as he and his partner pinned the shooting victim to the ground.
“He’s got a gun,” cried one of the cops upon realizing Sterling had a firearm in his pocket.
One officer fired off five bullets, striking Sterling at least twice during the escalating struggle that began as the cops stunned, tackled Sterling against a car hood and then threw Sterling to the pavement.
“He was screaming, ‘What did I do,’ ‘Whats going on,” Triple St. Food Mart owner and witness Abdullah Muflahi told the Daily News.
Muflahi said he watched police kill his friend of six years outside his shop where he allowed Sterling to peddle music. “His hand was not in his pocket, nor did he have the gun in his hand,” he said, defending Sterling’s final moments.
“While he was laying there dying, the cop went inside his pocket to pull the gun out.”
The terrified witnesses who recorded video of the police shooting from their car, turned the camera phone away as the second officer grabbed his sidearm and pointed it at Sterling. The audio continued to record as gunshots rang out at the shop. Sterling died at the scene.
Although it appears the officer pointed the firearm close to Sterling’s head, the Advocate reports Sterling suffered at least two gunshots to his chest and back.
Baton Rouge authorities said their officers were called to the Triple S. Food Mart after a report of a man selling CDs and threatening the caller with a gun.
Muflahi acknowledged that Sterling had recently bought a firearm for protection after learning other disc sellers in the region had been robbed.
He did not know of any argument outside his store that led to the initial 911 call.
“I think they really handled it the wrong way,” Muflahi added.
Baton Rouge police officials said both officers are on administrative leave following the shooting and the investigation into Sterling’s death continues.
The officers had body cameras strapped to their uniforms during the shooting, but the recording devices reportedly came loose and were dangling from their chests during the incident, according to the Advocate, citing Baton Rouge police spokesman Cpl. L’Jean McKneely.
Police also confiscated the store’s surveillance footage that Muflahi said would have captured every second of the violent death outside his store.
Louisiana allows weapon owners to open carry without a firearm permit as long as they’re an adult and not felons.
Sterling’s brush with the law dates back two decades with a lengthy rap sheet that includes drug, firearm, theft and assault arrests.
He was sentenced to five years to prison for marijuana and weapon possession in 2009, the Advocate reported.