Vargas: Some things to know about the Alton Sterling shooting


The latest police shooting video has hit social media and is causing public outrage and protests in the city of East Baton Rouge.

The shooting is graphic in nature and disturbing to anyone who watches it. In the video, Alton Sterling is shot at point-blank range while on his back struggling with police officers.

Here are answers to some of the questions you may have:

Why did the officers contact Mr. Sterling?

An anonymous caller reported he was threatened by Mr. Sterling with a gun. The suspect description matched Mr. Sterling, and officers attempted to detain him as part of their investigation. The video shows a police officer tackling Mr. Sterling, and taking him to the ground purportedly after a Taser was ineffective.

Was Mr. Sterling armed?

According to East Baton Rouge Police Chief Carl Dabadie, Mr. Sterling was armed during the struggle with officers. In the video, one of the officers is heard yelling the suspect had a gun.

What will the investigators be looking for?

Investigators from the FBI and the US Attorney General’s Office have been asked to lead the investigation. They will be looking at the shooting to determine if the officers were legally justified in their use of deadly force.

What mindset the officers had during the incident is critical.

Witnesses will be interviewed. The officers will be interviewed.  Surveillance video, body-cam video and audio will be reviewed. The caller information and the dispatch calls also will be reviewed.

The findings will then be presented to a prosecutor or grand jury to determine if there is enough evidence to warrant criminal prosecution.

What is the legal standard for justification of deadly force?

The United States Supreme Court has set the standard, and recognizes each case is unique. The Supreme Court also acknowledges that officers often have to make split-second decisions given only a limited set of facts.

In the 1985 case of Tennessee v. Garner, the court decision opined: “When the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force.”

Is it ever okay to shoot someone while they are on their back, on the ground?

As long as a suspect has access to a weapon and is failing to comply, the officer has to believe the suspect is threat.

Officers are trained to believe that all armed suspects are potentially life-threatening. Most police academies incorporate role-playing scenarios involving ground fighting with an armed suspect.

What was the problem with the body cameras?

Purportedly during the struggle, the body cameras became dislodged. Most cameras are just clipped onto a shirt and may come off in a fight.

If the cameras were activated, they will continue to capture the audio and visual. According to the police department, the body cameras continued to record.

In the coming months, more information will be forthcoming. There is a commitment from the United States Attorney’s Office to be transparent and timely with information.