BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) - The family of a black man killed last year by police in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city and police on Tuesday, alleging a history of excessive-force incidents and racism toward African-Americans.
The death of Alton Sterling, 37, was among a series of racially charged police killings that inflamed a national debate over treatment of minorities by law enforcement.
The lawsuit, filed in state court on behalf of Sterling’s five children, seeks unspecified damages from the city, Police Chief Carl Dabadie Jr. and his department, and the two officers involved in the shooting, among others.
“This is not about whether the officers should go to jail. It’s about resolving this case for the children who no longer have a father because proper procedures weren’t followed,” L. Chris Stewart, one of the children’s lawyers, said at a news conference.
Police spokesman Don Coppola and Janene Tate, a spokeswoman for Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome, declined to comment, citing pending litigation.
Sterling was shot outside a convenience store on July 5, 2016, after a resident reported he had been threatened by a black man selling CDs. Police said Sterling was trying to pull a loaded gun out of his pocket when Officer Blane Salamoni opened fire.
The shooting prompted nationwide protests, including a demonstration two days later in Dallas at which five law enforcement officers were fatally shot by an African-American ex-serviceman.
Federal prosecutors declined to charge Salamoni and his partner, Howie Lake, in May, saying they lacked evidence to accuse them of civil rights violations. A state investigation is ongoing.
The 26-page lawsuit alleges that Salamoni and Lake breached protocol, used excessive force and violated Sterling’s constitutional guarantees against unreasonable searches and seizures and of due process.
At the time of the shooting, Baton Rouge police lacked written policies on the use of deadly force or on how to ease tense confrontations, the lawsuit said.
Baton Rouge also has a “longstanding pervasive policy of tolerating racist behavior by some of its officers,” it said. Dabadie was aware of incidents that included racist-group texts in 2014 and 2017, the lawsuit added.
The litigation comes a day after the family of Philando Castile, a black motorist shot to death during a traffic stop in Minnesota last year, reached a $3 million settlement with the city of St. Anthony.
Additional reporting and writing by Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis